Every winter quarter, the legend of NU Dance Marathon comes to fruition in the form of a 30-hour test of emotional, physical and psychological endurance. As one of the largest student-run philanthropy events in the country, 2023's marathon event benefitted both the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) and the Little Heroes League (LHL).

If you somehow got roped in back in October during sign-ups, and especially if you forgot about NUDM up until the week before, refer to this list of tips to retain your sanity and emerge victorious from The Tent.

1. Have a different outfit for every Block

You’ll fit in among the crowd of dance enthusiasts, and they’ll recognize you as one of their own. Now’s the time to whip out all of those themed frat party ‘fits you thought would never see the light of day again. Show off the sequined jacket, the gold cowboy hat and the tutus. At Dance Marathon – the sparklier, the better.

Biggest slay award goes to the wearer of this sequined coat (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).
A close runner-up: The gold cowboy hat (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

2. Bring your friends!

Not everyone knows this, but it is possible for people to visit NUDM, even if they’re not going to stay for 30 hours. They can drop in for a samba tutorial or a round of The Electric Slide, then quickly bounce out before they become indoctrinated into the NUDM cult.

Dancers learn how to samba, courtesy of members from NU BLAST (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

3. Stay hydrated!

Not just with coffee (even though it’s free). You need water if you’re going to make it past Block 3. Your water bottle even gets its own parking spot to rest, even though you definitely don’t.

Your water bottle gets a cubby! It brings us back to elementary school days (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

4. Watch out for the beach balls!

They’re a hazard for a bunch of delirious dancers, but if you can, cop one and play some volleyball when the dancing gets a little too monotonous.

Three dancers show off their volleyball prowess (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

5. The music is loud AF. And I mean LOUD.

Do not dance by the speakers too long or you’ll develop a solid headache within about 20 minutes (and risk eardrum damage). Trust me, I made this mistake taking photos, and my ears were still ringing two hours later.

At the 24-hour mark, dancers do the Cha Cha Slide with both members of the NU football team and families from the Little Heroes League (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

6. Don’t wear your beat-up pair of Air Force 1s or Converse.

Although your beater shoes may seem like a good bet, your feet will thank you if you opt for something with more support. Running shoes might be a good option, and those who only brought their old sneakers will be envying you by the 16-hour mark. And yes, people will take their shoes off and dance barefoot, and yes, it definitely doesn’t make the smell of the tent any better.

Abandoned shoes on the side of the dance floor (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

Note: You will see everything from fuzzy house slippers to Crocs on the dance floor, although some shoes might be a better choice than others.

Crocs and slippers were included in the chosen footwear for the night (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

7. Let your inner silly goose fly free!

People will get on stage to teach you everything from line dances to samba, so don’t be afraid to look a little stupid. It’s dancing, not your organic chemistry final. The moves don’t have to be perfect – or even any good – to be fun.

Dancers let loose decked in Northwestern purple (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

8. Get ready for a first-hand view of how Northwestern inspired Pitch Perfect

A Cappella groups will serenade you with renditions of Lizzo and Lorde, and you will be grateful for the few minutes you get to sit down.

ShireiNU performs at NUDM (Photo Courtesy of Leilani Diaz / North by Northwestern).
Dancers take a break to listen to some a cappella (Photo courtesy of Leilani Diaz / North by Northwestern).

9. Pet the miniature horses!

This is one of the few times when there will be a furry serotonin boost in Norris, and at this point, anything will be worth getting away from the speakers.  

Some of the NUDM Exec, dancers and mini horses pose for a photo by Norris’s Louis Room (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

10. Don’t touch the walls!

We cannot stress this enough, because touching the tent will somehow get you covered in the sweat cloud and condensation generated by the college students who’ve been dancing for hours on end. By the time I left NUDM, a slightly-B.O.-esque dew covered the jacket I'd left on the floor.

On that note, we would extend this tip to the floor, the poles… basically, any surface in that tent. Keep your hands to yourself, and bring hand sanitizer. It’s gross.

Dancers recharge during the seventh inning (or Block) stretch (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).

11. Time will stop feeling real, so prepare to forget about the outside world.

The tent has the same level of light for all 30 hours. So whether it’s three in the morning or three in the afternoon, it’s always the same level of dance-induced hysteria.

The dark atmosphere of the tent lends to the night-time feel. For 30 hours. Longest. Night. Ever (Photo Courtesy of Leilani Diaz / North by Northwestern).

12. Lastly, as you start fading towards the end of the marathon, remember the Evanston community and the Little Heroes you’re doing this for!

This is especially true once the kids start running into the room and through the high five tunnel. Your joints may feel too old to run through the tunnel by this point, but at least you can give the kids a hell of a high five. And another high five… and another one. The older ones will run through the tunnel at least seven times, so get ready to be there for a while.

NUDM is legendary for a reason. While some (or maybe, most) say that it would be crazy to try to dance for 30 hours, the committed ones have managed to raise over $23 million in the 49 years that the event has been happening. After 30 grueling hours, the marathon raked in a total of $434,455.

If you choose to do Dance Marathon next year, then we are both in awe of – and a little intimidated – by you. But we commend your dedication, and we’ll see you next winter quarter in The Tent.

If the smiles and high fives don’t get you, the matching pizza-print outfits will (Photo Courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern).