Believe Beyond Boundaries

Every year, a small army of volunteers and professionals race against the clock to prep Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center for the annual Dance Marathon.

THON action

Penn State's Dance Marathon

It takes a full year of preparation and hundreds of student volunteers to get Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center ready for the three-day Penn State Dance Marathon.

Image: Patrick Mansell

Before the dancers can take to the floor for this year's Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, it takes an entirely different marathon to ensure the annual charity event begins without a hitch. 

In the days and hours leading up to the start of the charity event, an army of students begins the Herculean task of transforming the Bryce Jordan Center into THON 2017. 

The THON Before THON

Planning for this weekend's THON began almost immediately after the 2015 event concluded, says Lily Beatty, THON's public relations director. 

"Setting up the Bryce Jordan Center pales in comparison to the hours and hours and hours of coordination that go into making sure setting up the Bryce Jordan Center is possible on Friday." 

Must of the physical setup work at the Jordan Center falls to THON's OPPerations committee, which includes approximately 750 members. 

THON stage build

Preparing for THON

The Bryce Jordan Center stage, along with the iconic four-diamonds lighting grid, is erected and lit prior to the three-day Penn State Dance Marathon.

Image: Courtesy of THON

Five trailers loaded with supplies and materials are pre-positioned in the Jordan Center's parking lot during the week before THON. 

The trailers contain everything from the floor mats that carpet the arena to storage lockers for the dancers to paper products and cleaning supplies. 

"We have our own storage facility that houses all of our mats along with our other supplies," says Jake Criscuolo, THON OPPerations director. "We bring with us everything—toilet paper, paper towels, chemicals to clean, mop buckets, mops, dust pans, brooms, stuff like that. We have, I would say, 90 percent of the supplies that we would use THON weekend." 

All of the supplies are carefully loaded into the trailers so they can be offloaded precisely when they're needed during the setup process. 

Friday Morning Frenzy

Though some materials are brought into the Jordan Center the night before THON, most of the physical setup of the space begins the morning of THON.

Work begins in the pre-dawn hours, with members arriving between 4 and 5 a.m. Friday morning. 

"You have eleven hours to get that building set up and completely ready to go," Criscuolo says. 

THON load in

THON Load-in

THON committee members move shelves, food, mailboxes, and more into Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center prior to the annual three-day event.

Image: Courtesy of THON

As professional crew members and the THON entertainment committee build the stage, set up speakers, and ready the lighting, OPPerations committee members begin laying the mats that will constitute the dancers' floor. An anti-fatigue layer comprises the floors' foundation while another mat layer completes the dance floor. 

"They're like puzzle pieces," Criscuolo says of the mats. "They fit closely together and they're one of the most difficult things to lay down, simply because if you stray from the straight line you're supposed to be laying down, they'll become separated." 

Beyond the main floor, the OPPerations crew also has to prepare other areas of the arena, including the south annex, which houses private areas for the dancers and families. There, the students will lay down mats on the annex floor, set up storage units for each dancer, and erect pipe and drapes to section off different areas. 

A great deal of attention is given to the dancer storage units, says JT Malorgio, THON's dancer relations director. The lockers, which give dancers a secure area to store their personal effects and a place to call their own, are decorated with specific themes in the weeks leading up to THON. 

"Setting up the Bryce Jordan Center pales in comparison to the hours and hours and hours of coordination that go into making sure setting up the Bryce Jordan Center is possible on Friday."—Lily Beatty

A major logistical challenge for the dancer relations committee is the dancer mail—packages and letters sent to the THON dancers to help keep their spirits up during the 46-hour event. 

Dancer mail, as well as mail for the Four Diamonds children attending THON, are gathered and stored at the HUB-Robeson Center on campus. 

"By THON weekend, we fill almost an entire trailer with packages and mail," Malorgio says. "It's all organized in a manner where we can take it out of the trailer in the order we want." 

Dancer mail isn't the only thing the committee uses to help lift dancers' spirits. An entire other trailer houses all of the materials used for THON's theme hours and games, which help pass the time and maintain dancer morale. 

"We probably have about ten theme hours consisting of four to five games each," says Malorgio. "There are about forty to fifty random events that pop up during the span of the entire weekend. These range from giant Jenga to freeze frame to different picture kind of things that stimulate the dancers not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well."

Ongoing Operations

To help keep the dancers—and everyone else involved in making THON run—going, food and beverages need to be brought in throughout the weekend to feed the dancers, volunteers, and families. 

The THON before THON: 11 hours, 750+ volunteers, 5 trailers

The THON hospitality committee coordinates the donation and drop off of food for the event. 

Starting Friday morning, several drop offs begin, including massive amounts of water and Gatorade donated by Roaring Spring and Pepsi, says Sam Hunsicker, THON's hospitality director. "We have pallets and pallets of drinks and food that we have to track and store." 

The hospitality committee handles not only meals for the more than 700 dancers participating in THON, but feeding the Four Diamonds families attending the event as well. 

"It's a matter of laying out everything in the proper place so we know where to find it when we need it," Hunsicker says. 

Throughout the week leading up to THON, the hospitality committee finalizes a detailed timeline for meals and when food must be picked up from donors. 

Other THON committees also descend on the Jordan Center Friday morning to begin their setup work, including check-in areas, security, and media rooms. 

"The cool thing about setup is we've been here for ten years, so have it down to a science. We just try to make sure everything goes smoothly."—Jake Criscuolo