THON: A look back through the years

UNIVERSITY PARK – Indescribable. Unbelievable. Moving. Touching. Inspiring. Invigorating.

THON deserves its own word in the dictionary, as no adjective out there can ever capture what it’s like to stand for hours on end, fighting for a cause that affects us all — what it’s like to dance on the floor where families and children and those who lost loved ones stand, willing to continue the fight.

THON has been a longstanding Penn State tradition and its legacy will live on and on and on, touching lives for years to come.

But what’s THON’s history?

Let’s travel back in time a bit and see the major progressions of a dance marathon that stands for the glory, that fights for the kids. 

The first THON was held in 1973. Former Interfraternity Council (IFC) President Bill Lear had propositioned a Dance Marathon to help raise money for children fighting cancer. At Penn State’s first dance marathon, 78 students danced in Penn State’s HUB ballroom for thirty hours, raising more than 2,000 dollars. At this time, dancers competed against each other to see who could stand the longest.


The dance marathon was moved to the Mary Beaver White Building, where this photo was taken. The capacity of dancers the previous years had demanded such a move; the philanthropy was growing! This year was also the year when dancers were no longer competing against each other, but actually all joining together to stand for the whole event. 1979 raised six figures — $131,182 — for the kids.


This photo showcases the student dancers stretching their legs out to avoid muscle-cramping during the dance marathon, still held in the White Building. In 1987, the IFC marathon coined the word “thon” as its official name. 

This marked the first year that anyone who could not attend THON, but wanted to see it live, could access the marathon through Back in 1992, THON broke the one million mark, raising $1,141,145.38. Flash forward to 1999, and THON was moved to the Rec Hall. 

This photo is from 2004, where THON participants are raising their hands up in the year for the line dance, a dance that THON uses every year to ignite energy, exercise and connection among the dancers. 

This photo is from THON 2005, when students and families piled into Rec Hall for the dance marathon. 

2007 marked the year of THON’s 35th anniversary and a move away from the Rec Hall and into the Bryce Jordan Center (BJC). The BJC could hold twice the capacity of Rec Hall. This was decided when Penn State President Graham Spanier negotiated with the Big Ten Conference and Penn State athletics. The negotiation also included changing the 48 hours to 46.

Here is a photo from 2011 THON Weekend. The Bryce Jordan is lit up with the colors of love, community and T-shirts representing each club and organization that has made it their mission to stand and dance for the kids. 

And so here we are in 2018. THON raised an amazing $10,151,663.93. Let’s show the world what cancer cannot do — it can’t ever take away our will to fight, to raise, to hope, to keep the faith and to fight for our loved ones. We won’t ever give cancer the power to take away our fight, to take away our Nittany roar. We Are!

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