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Dancing the Day (And Night) Away to Fight Pediatric HIV/AIDS

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Over Presidents Day weekend, the Pediatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA once again hosted Dance Marathon, where students raised a record-setting $451,144 for the fight against global pediatric HIV/AIDS.

Presented by Bank of the West, UCLA's Dance Marathon continues to be the largest student-organized philanthropic event on the West Coast. This year, more than 830 dancers stood on their feet for 26 music-filled hours, from 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 18th until 1 p.m. on Sunday, February 19th. A grand total of 1,500 supporters and performers participated in the event as well.

Throughout the 26 hours, participants heard personal stories from children affected by HIV/AIDS, and learned facts about the disease -- such as how it's transmitted and where to get tested.

Since its launch in 2002, Dance Marathon at UCLA has raised more than $3 million, benefiting the life-saving work of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), the UCLA AIDS Institute, as well as Project Kindle and One Heartland -- two camps for children affected by or infected with HIV. By raising funds for these four organizations, the Pediatric AIDS Coalition and Dance Marathon participants fight pediatric HIV/AIDS at a local, national, and global level.

I'm a second-year life-science major at UCLA and have been involved with the Pediatric AIDS Coalition and Dance Marathon since my freshman year. I originally heard about the cause during my senior year of high school when I was taking a tour of the campus. The cause, event, and organization were all so inspiring that I knew I had to get involved. 

Last year was my first time staying up for 26+ hours, and it was well worth the fatigue I felt afterwards. I met some of the kids who benefitted from our fundraising, heard their amazing stories, and danced the night away with my friends.

Besides being an educational event, Dance Marathon at UCLA also entertains its dancers by having performers and celebrities attend throughout the morning, afternoon, and night.

This year's special guests included Perez Hilton and two-time X-Games BMX gold medalist Terry Adams. Jake Glaser -- son of Elizabeth Glaser, founder of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation -- also attended the event and gave a motivating speech during the closing ceremonies.

Among his inspirational words was a quote from his late mother: "My life had certainly not turned out the way I expected; but, while tomorrow would bring what it would, today was glorious."

Erin Ward, president of the Pediatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA, also reminded dancers that by participating in Dance Marathon, they were helping make the idea of an AIDS-free generation a reality: "We take a stand to show the kids here and others around the world that we won't stop until our dreams come true."

At the end of the night, everyone was more educated about the cause, and felt inspired to stay involved with the fight against pediatric AIDS. Involvement of this magnitude proves that this community cares about fighting pediatric HIV/AIDS, and wants to educate themselves about the global pandemic, consequently reducing the stigma associated with the disease.

For me, I took the drive from participating in Dance Marathon and sought out a volunteer position at the CARE 4 Families Pediatric AIDS clinic associated with the UCLA AIDS Institute. This has allowed me to develop a personal connection with the cause, as I assist the clinic and interact with the kids. 

Being educated about HIV/AIDS has not only made me aware of how to stay protected against the disease and learn why it's important to reduce the stigma associated with it, but it has also inspired me to stay involved with the cause until there's a cure. 

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To learn more about the UCLA Dance Marathon, and its beneficiaries -- the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, One Heartland, Project Kindle, and the UCLA AIDS Institute, visit http://www.bruindancemarathon.org/.