35 Years. 24 Hours. A Lifetime of Memories.
February 2, 2017
When dancers take the floor for the 2017 Teddi Dance for Love, they step into a legacy 35 years in the making. Transcending well beyond the $1 million the fundraiser has generated for Camp Good Days and Special Times, alumni of the 24-hour dance-a-thon say its legacy is in the smiles of children who visit during Camper Hour, the lifelong friendships formed on the dance floor, and the idea that a person can make a difference one dance step at a time.
Teddi 35 chair Hilary Wilcox ’17 said the 2017 dance, which will be held from 8 p.m. on Friday, February 17 through 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 18, will pay homage to dances past, while embracing a strong future.
Through the many evolutions of the dance, one thing has remained steady: the desire to help the children and families of Camp Good Days.
Gary Mervis launched the Camp in honor of his daughter, Elizabeth “Teddi” Mervis, for whom the dance is named. Teddi was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at the age of nine, and her experience inspired Mervis to start a foundation that could offer children and families the opportunity to come together during their often difficult journey. Since its inception, the non-profit has provided more than 45,000 children with summer camp experiences and year-round support programs. Amid the worry and heartache of watching families battle childhood diseases, Mervis saw the deep financial anxiety many parents faced over the course of treatment.
“I made a promise when I started Camp that every program or service we provided would be done free of charge,” Mervis said. “The only way we are able to keep this commitment is because of generous individuals and through fundraising like the dance.”
The incredible launch of Camp Good Days – it was the fourth organization of its kind in the country and the first to be started by a lay person – prompted Mervis to seek a writer who could help craft a memoir about its beginnings. He found that person in Dr. Lou Buttino, then a faculty member at Fisher. As Buttino tells it, he was inspired by his experiences visiting the Camp as a part of his research for the memoir.
“I had come back from Camp and was very moved, and told three students that we have to do more for the children of Camp Good Days,” he recalled. “I don't remember who it was, and maybe that’s a good thing, but somebody said, ‘dance marathon,’ and the rest is history.”
Today, Teddi boasts a committee that includes more than 100 students, a huge expansion from the small but mighty team that pulled the dances together in the early years.
“The students for the first few years had to scourge the landscape for food, water, etc.,” Buttino said. “Of course, the biggest worry, was it going to happen at all?”
But happen it did. Every year without fail, students, faculty, staff, and alumni worked to organize the fundraiser. And every year, the passion for the dance grew. In the late 1990s, students took more ownership of the dance, with captains and committees tasked with raffles and auctions, ordering food and beverages for the dancers, and drumming up interest on and off campus, among other activities.
“Of all I get to do each year, the time I spend at the dance is the most special,” said Mervis. “Here are all these kids dancing and working, and they weren’t even born when Teddi died. But, you go to the Athletic Center and you can feel Teddi’s spirit there, and these students help keep her memory and spirit alive.”
There’s no doubt that these efforts have a positive impact on the children of Camp Good Days. The funds raised support the Teddi Project, which sends a group of children on a week-long trip to the amusement parks in Florida each summer.
In December 2016, the Teddi Committee announced Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley as the honorary chair of the event. She will serve as a powerful role model for dancers: in spring 2016, she publicly announced her own fight against multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer, and has displayed grace and strength throughout her treatment at the Wilmot Cancer Institute.
Another Teddi tradition includes dedicating the dance to a camper. This year, the committee chose to honor Courtney Wagner, the Canandaigua teen who passed away in October 2015 after a courageous battle with cancer. Her spirit inspired the Rochester community, and a viral social media campaign helped get her on The Ellen Show.
“We wanted to dedicate this year’s dance to Courtney because she was such a loving person,” Wilcox said. “We watched her interview on Ellen at one of our first Teddi meetings and it reminded everyone that we are here for these kids, and even if they are not with us, they still have a huge impact on our lives.”
Wilcox is hoping for a large turnout to help recognize this year’s milestone Teddi. Participants can register for the dance in advance at Teddi’s website, or the day of the event. A $50 donation is requested for dancers interested in participating for the full 24 hours; the suggested donation for the mini eight-hour marathon, held from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, is $35.
With an army of passionate alumni and an influx of enthusiastic students eager to carry the dance forward, it’s easy to envision the event dancing well into the future.
“It’s a tradition that is in the bones of Fisher,” Buttino said. “I doubt it will ever die on campus. It’s like a building, like the air at Fisher.”