I don’t have much of a sense of rhythm; I don’t particularly like dance music. Honestly, I don’t like dancing much at all. Good, now we’ve got that out of the way.
My name is Connor Gentry and I am a junior at Hope studying engineering. I am now in my second year as a member of Dream Team, the Dance Marathon planning team, and currently serve as the Finance Chair. My path to Dream Team and a love of Dance Marathon was highly unexpected. As I’ve already said, I am not a great, nor a passionate, dancer. As such, Dance Marathon, before I truly understood what it meant and what we do, sounded terrible to me. Loud music, large crowds, sleep deprivation and lots of dancing: not my ideal weekend. When my friends saw me at Dance Marathon my freshman year (the year I participated as a dancer ironically enough), they were surprised, and they asked me “Why are you dancing? Why are you here?” I had my reasons. I had friends who were doing it. My Nykerk coach, Kierstynn Foster was a Dream Team member (and former patient at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital) and she had insisted that we participate. And finally, to be perfectly honest, I had a crush on a female friend and she had to be there for her sorority; there are worse places to spend time with the girl you like after all, right?
My first DM was some of what I had expected and a lot of what I could never have predicted. Music, crowds, and dancing were indeed all present. Despite this, I actually enjoyed myself. It was a great time of fun with friends and bonding through mutual sleeplessness. I even managed an awkward “Hello!” or moderately clever joke to the girl I liked (I know, smooth, right?). Mixed in with all of this fun were the truly unexpected parts: the family stories. I knew that DM was a fundraiser for a children’s hospital and I knew that some of the families who had gone through treatment at the hospital would be there, but I had not anticipated what their stories would be like and the effect that they would have on me. In addition to not being a great dancer, I am not an outwardly emotional person, but when the families spoke, I was extremely emotional and openly cried at least three tears. I not only saw courage among these kids, but joy. I was impacted by this more than anything; they had fought for so long, against long odds, and had suffered through immense pain and uncertainty, yet they were full of joy and a zest for the lives that they had clung to and now got to embrace.
When people now ask me about why I dance and spend time working for Dance Marathon, my answer is quite different. I don’t dance for a specific girl anymore. I dance for two of them: Libby and Ella Neifert. I wrote earlier about an obvious joy for life in these Miracle Kids, and Libby and Ella are the embodiment of that joy. Their smiles are contagious, their words are wise beyond their years, and their passion for life and everything that it can be forces me to believe that these remarkable girls are going to accomplish amazing things in their adult lives. I have had the honor and joy of having the Neifert family as the Miracle Family connected with my Dream Team position. Spending time with them has changed my perspectives on so much in life, and each time I see them, I am reminded of why we dance, why we fundraise, and why Dance Marathon matters. If nothing else, the day of Dance Marathon is a reminder to these kids that they are valued, loved and never forgotten. This day is about them, the kids at the hospital, and the kids who will be treated at the hospital in the future. To quote my friend Ella, “Even if Dance Marathon didn’t raise a single penny, I would still think it was the best day of the year.”
Dance Marathon has been one of the most unexpected joys of my college career. Among everything that I have had the pleasure of doing during my time at Hope, it has by far been the most impactful and perspective-shifting. In an ironic twist of fate, I can truly say that the thing that I am most proud of in my Hope experience is my dancing. My advice to anyone who is curious or hesitant about doing Dance Marathon is simple: go and listen. Go to the event, have fun, dance if you want to and if you don’t, know that I’ll be standing in the back and you’re welcome to join me. Then, listen. As each family or hospital staffer speaks, take your knee and pay attention. You may see tears from the families and the students around you, but notice one thing that you won’t see: sorrow. Through all of the pain and heartbreak and flood of emotions, there is a persistent joy. As you kneel there listening, let that joy in and let it mix with the heartbreak. Be with the families and understand what it means to them that you are there, even if you never talk with them directly. If you get the chance though, chat with Libby and Ella and the other kids and Miracle Families; they’re pretty cool, and you might carry a little bit of their joy in your heart once you leave.