From State College to Amsterdam, they danced: Behind-the-scenes at 2021’s virtual THON
A year like no other
Ordinarily tens of tousands of people jam into the Bryce Jordan Center and stand shoulder to should for 46 hours to support the dancers at THON. This year the cavernous building was nearly vacant. The only people dancing in the BJC during THON were the skeleton crew that produced and documented live events on the familiar Four Diamonds stage.
Despite the pandemic, despite the pressure of mounting a virtual event for the first time, Penn State students still raised more than $10 million at THON for the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps the families of children with cancer. Along the way, the students and THON families had a unique experience.
A new kind of dancer experience for THON
Lyndsay Stakem, a junior biobehavioral health major, THON dancer and president of Penn State Global Brigades THON, said she never expected to be dancing at THON anywhere but at the Bryce Jordan Center.
With THON going virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Stakem danced the full 46 hours in her State College apartment, replicating the Bryce Jordan Center's energy to the best of her ability with the help of her friends, family and THON org.
She credits those around her with being the reason she was able to dance successfully this year, testifying that her support system of loved ones are proof that THON is not defined by the location, but defined by the people who make it possible.
~ by Lily Laregina
The really remote THON expereince: dancing in Amsterdam
Elise Wolfs is a senior criminology and sociology student at Penn State. She has participated in THON since her freshmen year. She didn't want 2021 to be any different. So on THON weekend Wolfs began dancing more than 3,700 miles away from campus in her hometown of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Wolfs is a member of the Omega Phi Alpha sorority. She raised $10,850 for THON this year, a big increase from the $4200 she collected last year.
Elise Wolfs interacts with Four Diamonds child Megan Martin and Omega Phi Alphas sorority members from the United State during 2021 THON weekend.
Wolfs said she dances in memory of a childhood friend who passed away from acute leukemia at the age of three. She said her memory of him entering the hospital and never making it back home made her wish there was better research and better treatment for kids with cancer.
She said planning a long-distance solo THON experience was a challenge. But she said that knowing her friends and sorority sisters would still be there for her mentally was enough to keep Wolfs motivated and positive throughout the 46-hour weekend.
Wolfs said she cried during the final four hours of THON this year, even though she was so far away and on a six-hour time difference. The slideshow of THON children who died this year hit especially hard. She said the energy of the Final Four was not just present in the Bryce Jordan Center.
~ by Xiaohua Li
Robot provides a remote control experience for THON family
Dean Packer and his wife, Denise Packer, chose to stay home during THON weekend. But they were still able to interact with people in Bryce Jordan Center thanks to a telepresence robot.
The telepresence robot is like a zoom call that you can control it to make it move around, Dean said, and people were able to talk and interact with them through the robot.
Denise said that this technology is still useful when the pandemic is passed, because using the telepresence robot is a way to engage the kids that are in hospital or can’t attend to be part of THON in the future.
~ by Annie Shih
TikTokking through THON
With Penn State’s THON being virtual this year, volunteers and dancers turned to TikTok in order to occupy themselves for the 46 hours.
TikTok is an app where people can create content through dancing, telling funny stories and recreating “trending” sounds for short, 15- to 60-second videos.
THON created its own hashtag for Penn State Students to follow along with what everyone else was doing and we picked out some of the best TikToks of the #THON2021 and #THON hashtags:
Mike Ferrone was a THON volunteer and made a TikTok inside of the BJC as a recap of the weekend.
Diego Santos created a TikTok for almost every hour of THON. He included different dance moves and funny sounds for him and his dancer friends.
Nikita Pezzi, a sophomore at Penn State, explained how Tik Tok has been used as a new way to spread awareness for many things including childhood cancer. Pezzi said, “Tik Tok has seemed to blow up which is why I decided to post about THON on my Tik Tok. Tik Tok is unique because one video could have the potential to get millions of views and actually make an impact on raising money for THON.” Nikita danced in THON and was able to raise money just through Tik Tok alone.
The Special Interest Organization, Eclipse, did the mannequin challenge for its seven dancers.
These dancers, Jenna and Mackenzie, recorded the first and last hours of THON 2021.
TikTok was a great way for dancers to pass the time, “I definitely saw other dancers in their dancer shirts and bibs on my for you page throughout the weekend,” Ferrone says. “I think it was just a fun way to dance and make memories in the limited capacity this year.”
These Tik Toks are just some of the many ways students have displayed what the virtual 2021 THON looked like this year.
~ by Emma Creamer and Cameryn Orlowski
Dancer relations vignette
Although this year may have been different, Gracie Chiodo, 20, continued to support the THON community by joining the Dancer Relations Committee. Joining Dancer Relations her freshman year, Chiodo said she fell in love with the committee, and the THON community in its entirety.
These past three years Chiodo has been a part of THON through her sorority, Delta Gamma, but has dedicated most of her time to Dancer Relations. Dancer Relations is responsible for taking care of dancers throughout the weekend.
However, this year threw a bit of a curveball.
THON 2021 being virtual was definitely a drastic change, but not enough to keep Chiodo from supporting the dancers. Supporting dancers was fun, creative, and still heartwarming. The time and the bonds that were able to be made, goes to show what THON is truly capable of, and how Dancer Relations still saw the silver lining.
“THON isn’t just a building, it’s an energy and I think everyone feels it,” Chiodo said.
First person: Dancer Jacqueline Strobel
My experience this year with THON may have looked different than what I expected it would after having the opportunity to experience THON on the Bryce Jordan Center floor the past three years; however, my time dancing this year was just as amazing and fulfilling as I could have ever hoped for!
My favorite memory from the weekend was when they announced the THON organization totals on the livestream. My organization worked so hard this year to increase our THON total so that we could touch more lives and have a bigger impact.
It was so rewarding to see our hard work pay off when they announced the total for my organization. I could not believe we raised almost $150,000!
~ by Shea Sugrue
How many people watched the stream?
Jacqui Clair from 46Live says the THON live stream reached tens of thousands of people.
~ by Aliah Walls
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma raised more money than they have in the past three years amidst a historical virtual THON.
Jenna D’Andrea, THON Chair of Kappa Kappa Gamma, said that her sorority feared that virtual event wouldn’t appeal to potential donors. But the sorority managed to exceed their personal fundraising expectations by using creative routes to achieve that goal.
D’Andrea said she did not expect to make a piece of Penn State history after becoming a THON chair as a sophomore.
~ by Ty Miller