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26 Jul 2013

Honoring Cancer Survivors With Dance: Palm Springs' Relay for Life Throws a 24-Hour Party

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Since 1985, the American Cancer Society has held Relay for Life fundraising events in thousands of cities across the world.

But as far as local organizers know, there’s never been a Relay for Life quite like the one taking place next Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2 and 3, at the Riviera Palm Springs.

The Relay for Life formula is fairly tried and true: People form teams, gather pledges, and then take turns walking or running around a track (at a high school, for example) for a certain time period—often 24 hours. Spectators and supporters can show up and buy items from the various teams, each of which has a table set up. The proceeds go to the American Cancer Society—and those proceeds can be substantial: Cathedral City’s Relay for Life generally raises around $80,000 per year, and little Yucca Valley’s garners $100,000, said Jennifer Heggie, the local ACS Relay for Life manager.

“They are amazing up there in the high desert,” Heggie said. “They’re super-dedicated to the cause.”

However, Palm Springs’ Relay for Life—the first held within the town’s city limits in a decade or so, Heggie said—won’t follow this successful formula. Instead, this Relay for Life is going to be a dance party.

From 5 p.m. on Friday to 5 p.m. on Saturday, the grand ballroom at the Riviera will be the setting for a 24 Hour Dance Party. For $20, attendees can come and go, all the while enjoying a wide range of entertainment including a swing-dance class, line-dancing, a drag show hosted by the ubiquitous Bella da Ball, and, of course, tons of great music from well-known DJs from Southern California and the Coachella Valley (including friend of the Independent Alex Harrington, aka All Night Shoes).

Heggie said the goal for this year’s Palm Springs Relay for Life is $25,000 (and money can be raised through Aug. 31). On one hand, that’s a modest amount when compared to the fundraising done in other desert cities (such as the aforementioned Relay for Life events in Cathedral City and Yucca Valley). On the other hand, that’s not a bad haul for a brand-new event.

“It’s hard to ask a town that’s starting a new event to raise $80,000,” she explained.

Since this is also a brand-new type of event, Heggie said she’s had problems fitting the 24 Hour Dance Party into the Relay for Life paradigm. For example, all of the standard marketing materials from the ACS have to do with … well, walking or running and tracks and whatnot.

“With this concept, we don’t necessarily have a track; we have a dance floor,” she said. “We kind of slightly leaned away from the team concept to be a little more inclusive.”

Of course, locals can still put together teams and “relay” their dancing throughout the night and day—in fact, Heggie said that arrangement is “ideal” in terms of fundraising. According to the local Relay for Life website, as of this writing, 13 teams with a total of 37 participants have already raised almost $11,000—a number which is sure to rise. Teams will each get a table to decorate and sell non-food items, like glow sticks, beads and boas, to raise extra money. (As for food, that will be available via the Riviera; Over the Rainbow Cupcakes and Desserts has also donated delicious goodies for purchase.)

If the 24 Hour Dance Party is successful—and considering it’s a kick-ass dance party with great entertainment and a moderate cover charge, why shouldn’t it be?—the concept could be picked up by other communities, Heggie said.

But despite the morph from track-relay event to dance-party event, this is still a Relay for Life, and most of the Relay for Life traditions remain intact.

First and foremost, Relay for Life has always been about honoring and celebrating cancer survivors, just as much as the events have been about raising money. Thus, all cancer survivors are invited to attend the event for free, and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, the event will include a three-course dinner for survivors and a caregiver. (Attendees need to register for the dinner by Thursday, Aug. 1, via the Relay for Life website or by calling the ACS’ Palm Desert Office; the number can be found below. Survivors who want to attend the dance party but not the dinner do not need to preregister.)

“The survivors open the relay,” Heggie said. “They do the first lap … so this means they’ll do the first dance.”

The event will feature a luminaria ceremony, led by singer Kris Searle, to honor loved ones whose lives were taken by cancer. And fans of Sissy Bingo at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club will be happy to know that the legendary Linda Gerard—who is currently in the midst of a heated battle with lung cancer—is scheduled to sing from 8 to 9 p.m. on Friday.

People who can’t attend, of course, are encouraged to donate to the event via the website. Another option to both give and receive: At 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 27 (i.e. the day after this story is posted), Relay for Life will be holding the Little Black Dress and Pearls for a Cause Party at Azul, 369 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets for two people are $100, and that ticket includes a buffet, four hours of open bar (we recommend a cab afterward), a silent auction and tons of entertainment, emceed by Bella da Ball. (Seriously: Does Bella ever take a night off?)

In other words: Everyone has a chance to support a great cause while having a great time doing so. So … go do so!

Relay for Life Palm Springs’ 24 Hour Dance Party takes place from 5 p.m., Friday, Aug. 2, to 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Riviera Palm Springs, 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive. Admission is $20; cancer survivors are admitted for free. The event is an alcohol- and tobacco-free event, though cocktails will be available at other parts of the Riviera during alcohol-serving hours. To donate, create a team or receive more information, call 760-568-2691, ext. 3, or visit relayforlife.org/palmspringsca.

If you are a cancer survivor or are currently battling cancer, and need support, services or simply someone to talk to, call 800-227-2345. The line is open 24/7. You can also visit cancer.org for more information.

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