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10 Questions With THON 2024 Line Dance Leader Hannah Donnell

When you ask most people what their favorite part of THON Weekend is, a common answer is the line dance. No matter where you are, what you’re doing, or how you’re feeling, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face and bring up the energy in the Bryce Jordan Center.

This magic doesn’t just create itself, though. It starts with a team of Dancer Relations captains, and this year’s was led by senior Hannah Donnell. Hailing from State College, Pennsylvania, the biobehavioral health major was an integral part of each dance and THON Weekend as a whole.

We sat down with Donnell to hear all about her journey with THON and what being the line dance leader meant to her.

Onward State: How did you become involved with THON?

Hannah Donnell: Growing up, I’ve been exposed to THON in many different ways. In middle school, I was super involved in mini-THON, and being able to interact with some of the families that came to speak was super cool. It sparked my interest in wanting to be even more involved in high school. I became involved again in high school and saw how the event was shaped at another level since we became older. We were working with older students, and it was a really awesome experience, again, getting to interact with the families and the athletes. We had athletes come to show some support as well, which was exciting and mimicked almost the same Pep Rally feel as THON. So with that, I went to THON for the first time when I was in high school, and it’s really indescribable the feeling that you feel when you walk into the BJC for the first time. I remember waiting in line outside, and it was freezing since it was February. THON is notorious for having such cold weather during the weekend. I remember when we finally got inside, we were like, “Wow, this is incredible.”

With that, I wanted to come to Penn State, being a townie and all, and a super exciting part of Penn State is THON. My first year here was COVID, so it was a little harder of a transition to get involved. I was on a first-year committee, and then for the two years after that, I was a Dancer Relations committee member, which was super fun just getting that experience with taking care of dancers directly and having that one-on-one exposure. This year, I was a Dancer Relations captain, which was an unforgettable experience.

OS: How did you create and prepare to perform the line dance?

HD: We can’t talk about a ton of the process, but I can say that in my position, it got started as soon as I got picked. It’s a year-long process of putting together the line dance and putting together all of the components. This isn’t something that just happens overnight or over a weekend. It’s a yearlong effort to put together. So we all work together to put our creative ideas together for different couplets and things like that, which is super exciting, but it’s not just one person. It is a group effort, and I am so thankful to have my co-captains alongside me to work through all that.

It really was an incredible experience sharing all of that with them and seeing what we could do when we put our minds together and be creative. To make a difference in the lives of so many and make this something special for the dancers to look forward to each time we do it throughout the weekend was super special.

OS: How did you work to keep the energy high each time you stepped on stage?

HD: Being in the BJC and its incredible energy. It’s pretty easy from my perspective to keep the energy up, but I’ve also been a performer since I was really young. I’ve twirled batons since I was in elementary school, so I’ve had that exposure to performing and having that high energy. Even when I’m feeling a little bit tired or sore, digging deep and bringing that energy for other people to see and for them to see me enjoying the line dance is something I really wanted to bring to the table. I know for the dancers, there are times that they’re struggling, so I knew I had to have high energy for it to be contagious to them. I also leaned on my co-captains a lot and talked to them. We all shared stories, words of wisdom, advice, and affirmation, which was a big part of what kept me going throughout the weekend.

Also, seeing all of our families gave me a lot of motivation and inspiration to keep going throughout the weekend and bring that high energy. I did superhero stretches during the weekend and that was a really special moment for me to have with our families, showing them some different stretches that we teach our dancers and giving them an opportunity to be in the moment gave me a lot of energy as well. Overall, just seeing the faces and smiles people got from doing the line dance and the joy they had each time they did it was super special to me and kept me going.

OS: Did you have any nerves before performing?

HD: I was a little nervous to do it for the first time because no one had seen it before. We definitely put a little bit of pressure on ourselves to do it correctly and perfectly the first time. I’m someone who is a perfectionist, so that was weighing on my shoulders a lot to do it exactly how we wanted it to go the first time through. But once we all were about to go on the stage, we had a moment talking to each other and giving each other hugs and that just turned my nerves into so much excitement. I knew we were going to have so much fun out there.

“Clarity” was insane, and we loved doing the dance break to that because I think we felt that from the BJC as well. That was also something that, once the first dance break hit on the first time through, I realized it was real. Having the opportunity to share that moment with so many people is also what fueled my nerves to turn into excitement. Not very many people get to do this, so I’m just super thankful that I got to share that moment with all of my co-captains and make a difference in the lives of so many throughout THON Weekend.

OS: Do you have a favorite lyric or part of the dance?

HD: My favorite lyric is “Find your dream, chase it, own it,” because I feel like it really encapsulates THON and ties into why I THON. It’s all for kids to have more adventures, to have more dreams, and to be able to inspire them in so many ways. I think that that line really shows what THON is doing — we’re enabling many people, not even just our families, to have those dreams and go after them and chase them. I’m someone who is a big goal-driven individual, so that’s something that means a lot to me: being able to achieve the little goals in hopes of the greater one. My favorite song has to be “Clarity.” We shared so many incredible moments dancing to “Clarity” during the dance break and just taking a second during it to look around the BJC and see the joy it brought everyone and how the energy just skyrocketed during that part was something I’ll never forget.

OS: Why do you THON?

HD: In the future, I want to be a pediatrician, and I’m currently looking at doing pediatric hematology and oncology because of my experience with THON and seeing our families and interacting with them. But just like many other people, I’ve had a lot of family members that have had cancer. That was what fueled my initial drive to get involved in mini-THON. Coming to Penn State and into THON Weekend, I now THON for all of our families. It has really shaped me into the person I am today. Seeing all of our families and what they’re going through, reading family stories each week, and seeing the things I can do to make a very small difference in their lives is super special to me. Wanting to be a doctor and helping our families directly is something that I’ve had a passion for throughout my exposure to THON.

OS: What is your favorite THON memory?

HD: There are so many. This year, watching the Celebration of Life video and singing “Angels Among Us” with my co-captains is a memory I will never be able to forget. We were all standing there with our arms around each other, swaying and having some tears. It’s a lot of emotions, and there’s no other group that I would want to experience that with. They are truly incredible individuals, and I can’t imagine THON without them. It’s crazy that we didn’t know each other six months ago, and now we can’t stand to be away from each other at all. Having that moment with them and taking the time to honor our families that have had a child pass away from cancer was a super special time.

Going into the line dance after that, it’s a really tough transition to get your energy back up. I think that sharing that with them and having their support was something that meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to our families and dancers as well. Reminding ourselves that we are doing this to make a difference was just something that was unforgettable for me and is definitely one of my favorite moments from my THON experience.

OS: What did it feel like after completing your final line dance of the weekend?

HD: I was sad, obviously, because the weekend was coming to a close, but I was also just grateful. I was grateful that I was given the opportunity to be a captain this year. I was grateful to share the moment with all my co-captains. I was grateful to hopefully make somewhat of a difference for the dancers, giving them that time throughout the weekend to stretch and be energized. I wanted them to be able to take their minds off of standing and being awake for 46 hours and make sure they were still getting their stretches in because sometimes it gets hard and they forget.

Coming off the stage for the last time, it’s just hard to describe all the feelings that you feel when you leave for the last time. During that last line dance, I spent a lot of time just looking around the BJC, soaking in every last moment that I could. I know my co-captains did as well, and we all danced our hearts out to “Clarity” one last time. We do get to come back for the next five years, which is exciting. That definitely helps with a little bit of the sadness and nostalgia, because we get to have the opportunity to come back and show what we created for the next five years.

OS: Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which dinosaur would you be and why?

HD: I’m not going to lie, I don’t know that many dinosaurs, so naturally the first one that comes to mind is a T-Rex. But, if I were to describe a dinosaur that I’ve seen, I think it’s a Stegosaurus. I think it resembles me because it’s calm, cool, collected, and just goes with the flow.

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About the Author

Ally Eaton

Ally is a freshman public relations major from York, Pennsylvania and is one of Onward State's social media editors. She gets to write awesome feature stories and create epic content for our social media pages. Ally is a lover of country music and Trader Joe's. If you'd like to discuss March Madness or your most creative coffee order, feel free to contact her on Twitter @allyeaton31 or in her inbox [email protected].

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