Performer Kelly Gluckman, who has been living with HIV for more than eight years, said she feels healthier than ever before.
Gluckman first took the stage in Pauley Pavilion around 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. She explained in her set that storytelling is the art form she uses to heal. Despite the diagnosis, Gluckman said she promised herself she would fight the virus by trying to change the stigma around it.
“Being diagnosed with HIV is like something is being taken away from you,” Gluckman said. “We are not going to let this beat us.”
Gluckman said she personally connects to this year’s Dance Marathon theme, embrace, because she feels the HIV community has embraced her by being welcoming and compassionate. After being diagnosed, Gluckman said she used online forums to connect with others diagnosed with the virus. The online community provided her guidance and helped her come to terms with her HIV, she said.
“The theme of this Dance Marathon resonates super deeply with me because something I did to heal was to embrace the HIV community,” Gluckman said. “You will not find a group of people who’s more resilient.”
Gluckman then began a spoken-word performance, which focused on how stigmas around HIV can be harmful to those living with it. Her performance focused on a university student who disclosed her HIV diagnosis to a romantic partner. Although first interested and flirtatious with the student, the partner then began to distance himself from her.
During Dance Marathon, guest presenters shared their stores of living with and being impacted by the virus during a vigil. The speakers discussed how perceptions surrounding the virus are often incorrect and can cause individuals living with HIV to feel bad about themselves.
Emelly Villa, a first-year international development studies student, said the vigil provided an opportunity for individuals with HIV to disclose their experiences. She said the vigil addressed how stereotypes surrounding HIV/AIDS can form from people’s word choices. Statements such as “Are you clean?” cause others to develop the stereotype that individuals with HIV/AIDS are dirty, she said.
Gluckman said pity is unnecessary when individuals with HIV disclose their diagnosis to others. Stigmas surrounding HIV can cause hopelessness and despair shown in diagnosed individuals, she said.
Michaela Boster, an alumna, said the vigil was the most moving aspect of Dance Marathon for her. Gluckman is inspiring for sharing her story with others in order to provide educational context for the audience, Boster said.
“It’s an opportunity for people that are … either infected or affected by HIV … to share their stories,” Boster said. “It really is quintessential to connect to the cause and learn about the cause through storytelling.”