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Students continue the Superdance tradition at Arlington's Bishop O'Connell High School

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One year ago, Claire Babka couldn’t believe the news.

The spring 2020 Superdance, one of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington’s proudest traditions, was canceled due to health concerns and safety precautions related to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was super disappointed,” said Babka, now a sophomore at O’Connell. “I felt bad for all the seniors and committee members who put in so much work only for it to not happen in the end.” 

This year, Superdance is back, although in a slightly different format. Instead of a dance marathon, Bishop O’Connell will host an outdoor field day with multiple events to keep students engaged. 

The 46th annual Superdance — with an Olympic “compete for the cure” theme — will take place at the school April 17. Groups of 25 students will participate in two-hour blocks in activities such as bubble soccer, kickball, dodgeball and a tricycle race. Although the traditional 12-hour dance marathon will not take place this year, students will have the option to participate in an eight-hour dance contest as part of the festivities.

“I’m excited because it’s a tradition and it is live,” said Casey Johnson, a junior. “Especially last year with COVID, we were all so excited leading up to the dance, and then it had to be canceled.” 

Founded in 1975, Superdance honors and continues to be inspired by the O’Donnell family who lost four children to cystic fibrosis. The event raises awareness and funds to support research efforts to find a cure for this debilitating disease. Over the last 45 years, Bishop O’ Connell students have raised more than $4.5 million dollars for this cause.

Because of the pandemic, this is the first time that more than half of the student body has not attended the event. Many upperclassmen look back fondly on their Superdance experiences in the past few years. 

“The first Superdance I went to was very energetic and super fun,” said Eaden Afsaw. “It’s a huge tradition, and it was so exciting to be able to participate. I’m really curious to see how it all comes together in this new format this year.”

With a number of students enrolled in distancing learning this year, the school also plans to host a live broadcast of the events, where audience members will have a chance to interact and participate.

“We’ll also have teacher events like the talent show, or having them play video games,” said Akari Brown, a senior and a member of the student government executive board. “These things will be a way for people to stay engaged with the event from start to finish.”

Students have been busy asking family, friends and neighbors to support their fundraising efforts. In the past, they had pledge sheets that they filled out and carried around with them. Now it is all done online through the event website.

Shannon Hale, a sophomore, planned to participate in the full 12-hour dance contest last year. She was most excited to see the live student concerts planned then, and hopes to see those performances incorporated this year. “Whether it’s in person or virtual, student and faculty acts should definitely be included,” Hale said. “Especially Father (Gregory) Thompson and his guitar.”

Honoring a tradition as special and involved as Superdance is no small task under any circumstances, but this year it will be especially challenging. “Superdance brings everyone together,” said Caroline Bower, a senior and member of the event’s manpower committee. “Community is a huge aspect. It really represents the O’Connell family we have.” 

Senior Ryan Griffin, a member involved in the manpower, security and decoration committees, agreed. “It’s such a great time, but it’s really special because of the purpose behind it.”

 “We’re all united for a cause … planning Superdance feels like one more step back to more normalcy,” he added. “Keeping the tradition going is so important right now.”

No matter what Superdance looks like this year, the emphasis on community, service, dedication and fun will remain front and center. While it’s understandable that some first-time students might be unconvinced of what this year’s Superdance has in store, the majority of participants from past years urge students to take part despite the circumstances. 

“It will involve more people, more members of the O’Connell family, and the surrounding community,” said Andrea Kalochristianikas, associate activities director at O’Connell. “But at the end of the day, it will build more awareness around cystic fibrosis and the ultimate goal to find a cure.”

Find out more

For more info, go to superdance.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021