Student shimmies into record books with eight years dancing at UF Dance Marathon
By Jared Misner
Bailey Hebrank doesn’t remember meeting Matt Michel – she remembers him dancing.
“His heart is so big,” Hebrank, University of Florida Dance Marathon’s external communications chair, said. “He just won’t stop dancing.”
During the weekend of April 2, Michel (2L) shimmied and swayed into the record books, cementing his legendary status among diehard dancers as he tacked on an eighth year of dancing at UF’s annual Dance Marathon.
More than 800 students stay awake and on their feet for 26.2 consecutive hours during a spring weekend every year to raise money and awareness for Children’s Miracle Network, according Dance Marathon’s website (www.floridadm.org). The event benefits the patients of Shands Children’s Hospital at UF.
Since Dance Marathon began at UF 17 years ago, over $4 million has been donated to Children’s Miracle Network, making it the largest and most successful student-run philanthropy in the Southeastern United States. This year’s event raised more than $713,000 – surpassing 2010’s total by nearly $200,000.
Shay Broderick, a UF student and two-time Dance Marathon captain, has much the same instant thoughts of Michel as Hebrank.
“Oh, Matt, the eight-year dancer?” Broderick asked with a smile.
If it’s possible to create line-dancing legends in a yearly crowd of about 800 dancers, Michel has done just that.
But after one week, two days, 16 hours and 48 minutes of accumulated, record-setting dancing since 2004, Michel thinks eight is the magic number.
“I went straight home and was in bed by 3,” Michel said about his post-Dance Marathon celebration.
And that’s 3 p.m.
Michel, whose list of two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and future law degree from UF made his record-setting Dance Marathon history possible, said he never thought he’d become such a familiar face at the annual event.
“Even after my first year, I never knew I would do it again,” Michel said. “I ended up being an eight-year dancer, but I didn’t set out to do it.”
But it’s the “miracle children” and their families that bring him back to the grueling event, dancing for dollars for nearly a decade.
“That really is just life-changing,” Michel said of the “miracle families” – those whose children are patients at Shands Children’s Hospital and who benefit from the annual donations through the Children’s Miracle Network. “When (I) meet these people face-to-face, and hear their stories, that’s what keeps me motivated.”
Motivation to make miracles, to help the patients at Shands Children’s Hospital, is what has led Michel to raise nearly $3,000 during his dancing tenure.
But after this year’s whopping total of $713,053.68 was revealed, both Michel and Hebrank had no shortage of motivation.
“The difference is that after 26.2 hours, we get to go home and sleep. Whereas, for the families, the problems persist for months or even years,” Michel said.
For Michel, though, the exhaustion has another parallel.
“I’d never used 5-hour ENERGY drinks until law school finals week, but I find they’re very helpful during Dance Marathon as well,” Michel said. “They’re both endurance tasks.”
While Hebrank can’t say for sure how many participants at UF’s 17th annual Dance Marathon were law school students, Michel’s fairly confident he was the only dancer taking breaks (while still standing) to study immigration law.
Even with a legal brief due at 9 a.m. the next day, Michel said there’s always time to make miracles.
“The only difference between the law library and this was that I had to stand on my feet—and occasionally I would hear the line dance playing,” Michel said.
As many hope Michel will carry on in the making of his own record, Michel said next year will likely be his first sans dancing. Michel’s already applied to be the chair of dancer relations for next year’s event, a position that would involve Michel nearly all year.
“Right now I’m dedicating only one weekend to Dance Marathon,” Michel said. “I’d like to dedicate more than that.”
And as for creating the eight-time dancing legend? Michel is more than OK with that.
“As long as I’m a student, I’ll be involved with Dance Marathon in some way,” Michel said. “I just can’t stop.”