The 7th Annual Dance Against Cancer: An Evening to Benefit the American Cancer Society

The 7th Annual Dance Against Cancer: An Evening to Benefit the American Cancer Society
Theo Boguszewski

By Theo Boguszewski
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Published on May 1, 2017
Photo: Christopher Duggan

Monday, May 8th 

AXA Equitable Theater, 787 Seventh Avenue, New York City 10019

For tickets, click here

For Erin Fogarty Bittner, Programming Director at Manhattan Youth Ballet, it was losing her father to colon cancer that inspired her to take steps to combat the disease. For her friend Daniel Ulbricht, Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, it was witnessing his mother's long battle with uterine cancer that drew him to the cause. 

Seven years ago, Bittner and Ulbricht founded Dance Against Cancer, a nonprofit organization that produces an annual show to raise money to fight cancer, the second most common cause of death for Americans. The organization has grown astronomically, raising $277,000 in 2016 with $300,000 anticipated for this year. 

This year’s program takes place on Monday, May 8th at AXA Equitable Theater and includes performances by members of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Ballet Met, to name a few. The event will showcase the works of Larry Keigwin, Christopher Wheeldon, James Whiteside, Marcelo Gomes, and Frederick Earl Mosley, among others. 

Bittner and Ulbricht, in formal wear, speak into mics onstage
Erin Fogarty Bittner and Daniel Ulbricht; Photo: Cherylynn Tsushim

In the beginning, Bittner and Ulbricht asked dancers to perform, but at this point, dancers approach them. Sometimes, they even have to turn people down.

"Dancers come to us for different reasons,” says Ulbricht. “Some of them have been directly affected by the cause, some have heard about the event and want to do something."

The program opens with voice-overs of the dancers saying who they are, where they’re from, and for whom they are dancing in memory. 

For its first two years, Dance Against Cancer operated on its own, donating all its proceeds to American Cancer Society. In the third year, the event was able to develop enough clout for ACS to become an official partner. Responsible for saving more than 1.5 million lives in the past 20 years, ACS is the largest private, not-for-profit funder of cancer research in the United States since 1946. 

In addition to raising money, Dance Against Cancer brings communities together in the interest of one cause. The act of making art is cathartic, and the program helps dancers and audience members alike to celebrate the lives of loved ones they’ve lost. 

Two dancers in white pants and shirts relve on one leg while their other leg is extended into an air. They slightly arch their backs.
Performers during the 2016 Dance Against Cancer; Photo: Christopher Duggan

"The really beautiful thing is that everyone in the room, dancers and audience members, are there for the same reason, which really makes it this beautiful community experience,” explains Bittner.

Although Bittner and Ulbricht are at the helm of Dance Against Cancer, the production is made possible by the generosity of many different contributors. In addition to the dancers who donate their performances, a committee of volunteers gifts their time and efforts to the cause. 

On March 26th of this year, Dance Against Cancer hosted THE YOUTH MOVEMENT, an event empowering young people to contribute to the fight against cancer. It featured dancers from Manhattan Youth Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, and the Joffrey Ballet Ensemble, among others, and raised over $4,000. THE YOUTH MOVEMENT will become an annual event, running parallel to Dance Against Cancer. 

“It’s really valuable to see young people feel empowered to give back — they start to realize that, even at a young age, they really can make a difference,” says Bittner. 

Three women in colorful blouses and skirts lift one of their legs in turned in and contorted positions
Performers during the 2015 Dance Against Cancer; Photo: Cherylynn Tsushim

So what's next?

This year’s performance is almost sold out (there are still a few seats left, which will be released in this upcoming week). Considering the overwhelming popularity of the event, the logical next step is to find a larger venue. 

People outside of New York City are catching wind of the work Bittner and Ulbricht are doing, and there have been calls to bring Dance Against Cancer outside of NYC. “We've had offers to take this to other cities,” explains Bittner. “We definitely are interested in working to watch this project grow,” 

So how can you help? 

“The goal is ultimately to raise money for the cause, so even if people can’t afford tickets, they can still make a difference simply by contributing to ACS,” says Ulbricht. 

“Tour for a Cure” (#tourforacure) is a fun social media campaign that Dance Against Cancer has launched to raise awareness about the cause. To participate, post a video of yourself completing a single, double (or triple!) tour en l'air using #TourforaCure and nominate three or more friends. If you prefer not to complete the challenge, please make a donation to Dance Against Cancer. #danceagainstcancer

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