Ingrid Lustig, Jacob Arnould and Lorna Sharpe are excited. As members of St Andrews Save the Children, they have been busy planning the society’s biggest event yet. The Born to Dance marathon will start at 2 pm on Friday 22 April and continue for twelve hours.
Mr Arnould, a third-year physicist in charge of music for the event, says: “This is the first dance marathon we’ve organized.” Ms Lustig, a third-year IR student and president of the society, adds: “It was a way to fill a gap because we have so many balls, we have so many music events. This is something new, and it works really well [elsewhere].”
Though dance marathons are not very popular in the UK, they are tried and true fund-raisers in the US. The BuckeyeThon dance marathon at Ohio State University is the largest of this type of event in the country. Last year, students raised over $1.3 million for a local children’s hospital.
Hoping to follow suit, St Andrews Save the Children has grand ambitions for their own inaugural dance marathon. “We hope that this will be a continued event at St Andrews over the years,” says Mr Arnould.
In its six years as a society, St Andrews Save the Children has grown steadily. Ms Lustig says what started out as a small group of six students meeting weekly at the Whey Pat has grown into a ten-person committee and an even bigger society. Their meetings have moved into the more official School IV.
With more resources, the society has also been able to develop new events. This is something of which Ms Lustig is particularly proud. “It’s great. Everyone has their own little project,” she says. This includes Mr Arnould, who has channelled his side job as a DJ into planning the music for the dance marathon. As the event lasts twelve hours, this is no small task. He plans on switching up the genres regularly to appeal to as many musical tastes as possible and to accept requests to “hype people up.”
It is important to him that this event is an opportunity for him not only to share his own talents, but also to give back. “Going to such a great university like St Andrews where there are so many opportunities, we really understand how fortunate we are,” he says. “And we’re able to use the education we’re getting here in a meaningful manner.”
The marathon is certainly an ambitious project, but the society is undaunted. “We call ourselves the small and mighty committee,” says Ms Lustig proudly.
The event itself will be held in Club 601. Students interested in registering can sign up on this Saturday outside the Vic and the library from 11 am to 5 pm. Singles, pairs and groups of four can dance the night away. For a reasonable registration fee (£15 to singles, £25 for pairs and £50 for groups), participants will receive a free t-shirt, two free meals, a dancer pack full of goodies and entry into a raffle with prizes including movie tickets and a free dinner out.
During the event, the Swing Dance and Yoga societies will be hosting classes for the marathoners. The Blue Angels Dance Team will be teaching participants how to “dougie” and how to do the Single Ladies dance. At 10 pm, all participants will gain free entry into the Bop for the final stretch of the night.
Registrants are encouraged to fund-raise themselves, much like in other charity marathons. If everyone reaches their goal (around £50 per person), Ms Sharpe points out that the event will raise £7,500. In terms of what Save the Children can achieve with this money, 750 children will get free schooling for a year. “It’s an incredible thing,” says Ms Laustig.
The idea for a dance marathon developed out of a desire for novelty as well as for an event that is rooted in its charitable cause. Ms Laustig says: “We had a conversation as a society at one of our meetings recently [where] we recognized that, because there are so many events here and because there are so many charity societies, there’s a lot of competition to get your event out there and to get your society’s name out there. So a lot of the charity societies – and we felt this happening to us, too – become events-coordinating societies. And sometimes the mission of the charity they’re promoting gets lost in all that coordination.”
As a result, St Andrews Save the Children narrowed its focus and made a conscious effort to target their events towards their mission. Nevertheless, it is a challenge, especially in what Ms Laustig calls the “saturated market” in St Andrews.
In order to compete, the society has developed a number of original events, including an annual book fair and a recent bake sale.“The good thing about [the book fair] is that it’s zero cost,” says Ms Laustig. “We get donated books. We use recycled materials for decorations. We get the venue space for free. It’s all donations based, and that’s a kind of theme that we try to have as a society.” St Andrews Save the Children may not be able to compete with the elaborate marquee events on campus, but they differentiate themselves as one of the few societies to practically eliminate the overhead costs of their events.
More recently, they hosted a bake sale outside the library. But rather than simply hawk their goods and accept students’ spare change, the society provided options. Students could choose to place their money in one of three tins, each of which represented a different initiative: 1) a year of education for five children, 2) safe birthing kits for three mothers or 3) a year’s worth of food for refugees. At the end of the day, they had raised £100 for the winning cause: education for five kids. “And it’s all because people bought brownies,” says Ms Laustig. The dance marathon follows in this tradition of innovative fund-raising. By demanding more serious commitment from its participants, it is also maximizing the impact of the event.
For those unfamiliar with the charity, Save the Children works in 120 countries worldwide, including Scotland. In 2014, they helped more than 17 million children. Their focuses include many urgent issues, including emergencies, education, child poverty, healthcare, children’s rights and protection. (That last focus is especially important for the many children around the world who are forced into labour, marriage or war.) Save the Children focuses most of its work in Scotland on helping the 20 per cent of children that live in poverty. As a result, most of their programmes here focus on helping to close the education gap between poor children and their peers. Left unchecked, this disparity can have disastrous consequences for poor children throughout their lives.
After a summer internship with the organization, Mr Arnould was keen to stay involved. “When I realized that St Andrews has an actual society for Save the Children, I thought it would be really great to continue working with them because I had first-hand experience seeing how great of a charity is,” he said.
One of the reasons Ms Laustig was attracted to the charity is because, by supporting it, she can give back to people “well and beyond but also to those right in our own backyards.” To this end, St Andrews Save the Children does a lot of work in the community, from the book fair to a recent Easter egg hunt held for local schoolchildren.
Additionally, Ms Laustig says that the charity is “one of the most transparent that I’ve found. They always pitch that for every one pound that’s raised, 88 pence goes directly to whatever issues they’re solving, 11p goes to raising the next one pound and the last one pemce goes to administration.” Spoken like a true advocate. (To learn more about the most effective charities and how to improve one’s altruism, read Kirsty Hardwick’s article on page 19.)
St Andrews Save the Children is hosting their AGM on 19 April. Anyone interested in learning more about the society or getting involved is invited to attend. If dancing is not your thing, students can cheer on their friends during the Bop or donate to help participants reach their fund-raising targets. However, you may want to reconsider not partaking.
Mr Arnault says: “The point of the event is 1) to have fun and 2) to raise money for charity. We’re not going to force anyone to dance the entire time. The vibes are going to be really positive.”
The event committee is sure they have a hit on their hands. With an innovative idea and a no-brainer cause, the dance marathon has all the trappings of success. But more importantly the society hopes to appeal to students’ desire to make a difference. “The thing about St Andrews is it’s so incredibly charitable,” says Ms Laustig. “Everyone is in some kind of charity or another or they’re raising money for one or they’re running a marathon or doing an Iron Man or something like that. It’s a great community to be in.”
One thing is certain: The St Andrews Save the Children marathon is definitely going to be a night to remember.
To learn more about the Born to Dance Marathon, check out the event page on Facebook.