To all our dancers,
You could’ve been anywhere last weekend, but you spent the first weekend of Spring Quarter in Pauley Pavilion on your feet for 26 hours, dancing the day and night away with other Bruins. You spent 26 hours becoming advocates for those affected by HIV and AIDS.
Twenty-six hours is no small amount of time. It is as long as you’ll spend in a lecture class during a quarter at UCLA. In 26 hours you could walk across campus 50 times, or drive across the country. A lot can happen in 26 hours, and in Pauley Pavilion from April 6th-7th, a lot did happen.
Last weekend over 700 UCLA students chose to spend 26 hours educating themselves about the history and complexities of HIV, listening to voices that often go unheard, and working toward an inclusive stigma- and AIDS-free future. Your feet might not feel sore anymore, and your eyelids may no longer be heavy, but that feeling of solidarity, empowerment, and hope that united our dancers this weekend will stay with you.
Placing names, faces, and shared experiences to our cause shows that the AIDS epidemic doesn’t discriminate – and that it exists all over the world. Dance Marathon, more than the money raised or the songs danced to, is about erasing the misconceptions that we might not have even been aware we held. It’s about embracing the invisible and the marginalized by bringing the realities of HIV out of the shadows and into the light. No better is this seen that at Vigil, three hours dedicated to educating dancers about our cause through deeply personal stories. When the child ambassadors from Camp Laurel spoke, you gave them the safety and space to be themselves and share their stories, accepting them for who they are.
Moments like these are among the most special parts of Dance Marathon. At 3AM, when exhaustion hangs heavy in the air and the hype of the midnight morale shift has worn off, Pauley feels smaller than ever. The lights dim and hundreds of people crowd the floor, united in the presence of the real reason for why we dance: to stand in solidarity with those affected by HIV/AIDS. The only glow in Pauley is the sea of hundreds of red glow sticks raised in support of those we honor and remember, and to embrace the fight against ignorance and stigma.
“Raise your hand if you’ve known someone impacted by HIV or AIDS. Raise your hand if you’ve lost someone to HIV or AIDS. Raise your hand if you previously held a misconception about HIV or AIDS. And finally, raise your hand if you don’t want what you’ve learned to stop at Dance Marathon.”
This is why you danced.
You might think that you’ve done your part. You danced for 26 hours. You stayed up all night. You helped raise over $330,000 for a cure. But your role in the fight against HIV/AIDS didn’t end at 1PM on Sunday afternoon when you left Pauley for a hot shower and a long sleep. In fact, your role does not end until you have educated those around you. Your role does not end until AIDS is no longer the butt of some cruel, off-handed joke. Your role does not end until stigma has been eradicated, until we find a cure for HIV, and until no child is born HIV+.
You danced for 26 hours. You raised over $260. We thank you for that. Now we ask that you take what you learned in those 26 hours and you fight, not only for an AIDS-free generation, but for a stigma-free generation.
The Pediatric AIDS Coalition
By: Megana Sekar