This year's raiseRED dance marathon will look different than this, with mostly virtual events, but the goal is the same: to fight pediatric cancer.
This year's raiseRED dance marathon will look different than this, with mostly virtual events, but the goal is the same: to fight pediatric cancer.

raiseRed, UofL’s largest student-run philanthropic organization that raises money to fight pediatric cancer and blood disorders, will look stunningly different this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has gutted the signature 18-hour dance marathon and its emotional, sweat-and-tear-filled fundraising reveal.

That’s not to say the show won’t go on, however. raiseRED has shifted its entire model to include a number of virtual components, and also some socially-distanced features at the SAC.

“Cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic. We still need to do what we can for these kids,” said senior Benjamin Gerdes, internal projects coordinator for the organization.

“Not doing it never occurred to anyone,” added senior Zach Pennington, a programming director.

The goal remains the same as well – to raise money for the kids (#FTK); money that directly benefits research and patient needs. Last year’s dance marathon – one of the last major events on campus before the pandemic pushed operations online – raised $690,921.

The event has raised $3 million throughout the last seven years.

This year’s agenda

This year’s non-traditional event kicks off Feb. 22, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. with Motivation Monday, including family stories, speakers, line dancing instruction and more. This event is open to the public.

Teams Tuesday is Feb. 23, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., when students have the chance to choose what sessions they want to attend – from yoga to line dancing instruction.

February 24 is “Why I Dance Wednesday,” offering a night of reflection about the meaning behind raiseRED, our Cardinal kids and their families.

Speaking of Cardinal kids, the crowd-favorite kid talent show is Thursday, Feb. 25 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. This event is open to the public and will be streamed live on raiseRED’s YouTube page.

The event rounds out with a scavenger hunt around campus to incite some friendly competition among color teams, Feb. 26, and Angel Hour – just prior to the reveal, Feb. 27 from 11 a.m. to noon.

raiseRED students said they are trying to work out the final details for that reveal, hoping to receive permission to unveil fundraising numbers on a bridge overlooking a parking lot on campus, so students can attend in person while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Although the shift has created some challenges, junior Emma Gabbard, a programming director, said that itself is nothing unusual. 

“Every year has its challenges. This year, they’re just different. Instead of worrying about whether or not the DJ is going to show up, we’ll be worried about whether or not the WiFi goes out,” she said. “All of those challenges are more than worth it.”

It’s also worth noting that while things will be significantly different this year, the raiseRED committee plans to carry on some of the virtual aspects of the event.

“We were bummed to have to go to a hybrid model, but what it made us realize is that the event is now more accessible for some of our kids and their families. We had families who couldn’t make the reveal because they were three hours away, or kids who couldn’t make it because they were immunocompromised,” Gabbard said. “We will definitely continue some of those virtual pieces when we go back to normal so we can be more accessible to all of our families, and learning that has definitely been one of the positives out of this year’s experience.” 

Commonwealth Cup  

In addition to a shift to hybrid events, UofL is also teaming up with the University of Kentucky for the first time this year to raise funds and awareness of the schools’ dance marathons. The so-called Commonwealth Cup is Feb. 8-11, bringing UK’s Dance Blue and UofL’s raiseRED together in an attempt to raise $50,000 collectively for the respective hospitals the dance marathons benefit.

For DanceBlue, money raised benefits the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic. raiseRED’s funds benefit the Norton Children’s Cancer Institute and the UofL Department of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology.

The Commonwealth Cup will be held via both of the dance marathons’ social media channels (For UofL, Instagram/Twitter: @raisered_uofl; Facebook, RaiseRED; TikTok, @raisered), with daily posts highlighting the fundraiser. In addition to the daily posts, there will also be two events held on Feb. 10:

  • An all-day TikTok competition in which the dance marathon with the most engagement wins (@raisered and @ukdanceblue)
  • A virtual bingo event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Everyone is invited to attend and has the chance to win prizes from either DanceBlue or raiseRED.

Norton Children’s Cancer Institute 

Also new for raiseRED this year is a new beneficiary – Norton Children’s Cancer Institute. The affiliation between Norton Healthcare, UofL Physicians – Pediatrics and the UofL School of Medicine was finalized about a year ago.

What that means is this year, in addition to supporting the work of a clinical social worker and nurse, as the organization has done in the past, it will also support staff funding for a new child life specialist. According to raiseRED’s finance director Ben Barberie, this position will work alongside a new service dog in the Novak Center and Norton Children’s Cancer Institute. The CLS helps children and families navigate and process a new diagnosis, illness or traumatic event. 

The full-time CLS/dog team is also there to assist with fun, inviting, educational and stress-reducing activities as well, Barberie said. 

For more information about this year’s raiseRED, including how to donate, visit