Two years later, the Pink Glove Dance still moves

Retired cashier Mary Akin calls them “God shots” – seemingly random events too profound to be anything but divinely inspired.

The Pink Glove Dance might fall into that category. Two years ago more than 200 Providence St. Vincent Medical Center employees danced for a video to raise awareness about breast cancer. Untrained, unpolished and unabashed, they performed choreographed moves or free-styled in the hospital lobby, hallways, restaurants, a laboratory and an empty operating room.

The dancers had no inkling the video would go viral, currently surpassing 13 million page views on YouTube, spawning hundreds of other pink glove dances around the world, making the employees minor celebrities and, most important, touching millions of people in deep and unexpected ways.

“I just thought if we could get one more person to examine their breasts and take care of themselves, then cool,” recalls the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Martie Moore, R.N., who found many of the volunteer dancers for the two days of filming in the fall of 2009. “I never thought that it could touch lives and heal lives the way that it has.”

Neither did Medline Industries, the Chicago-area maker of the surgical gloves, which came up with the video idea. It flew a small production crew to Portland, including a project manager who knew choreography.

“We were just trying to think of ways to generate awareness,” says John Marks, Medline’s director of public relations.

A Providence employee posted the video on YouTube on Nov. 13, 2009. Within days it began to circulate – from hospital to hospital, family to family, patient to patient.

Monte Crawford
Meet the dancers
Catch up with Monte Crawford, Mary Akin and other familiar faces on our Facebook page.

“We started getting emails and calls from people all over the country,” Marks says. “Then it just exploded.” 

Video goes viral

Providence cardiologist James Beckerman, M.D., forwarded the video link to Facebook friend and “Twilight” actor Peter Facinelli, who tweeted it to his thousands of followers. The Huffington Post picked up the story, then ABC News, then Fox News.

British R&B singer Jay Sean, whose upbeat song, “Down,” served as the video’s soundtrack, posted the link on his website, writing, “The vid is awesome … medicine will always be close to my heart and this is such a worthy and important cause. So maybe I could have been a doctor and a singer at the same time after all then? Just brilliant.”

Page views on YouTube rose to 1,000, then 10,000, 100,000, then past 1 million and climbing fast.

“When they said ‘viral,’ I thought it was a bad thing, like a virus,” Moore confesses. Like most of the video’s participants, the nurse admits, she’s a social media novice. “That may be why it’s been so popular. Because what you see in the video is the true spirit of people. It wasn’t crafted. It was spontaneous.”

Pink Glove Dance students
And the Glovie goes to …
The original Pink Glove Dance has inspired dozens of other people to create their own versions. Here are some of our favorites:

Most ambitious: Pink Glove Dance: The Sequel (11 hospitals!)

Hippest: R&B singer Jay Sean performed his song "Down" to a pink-gloved crowd in Chicago.

Sweetest: A Wisconsin school (pictured) dedicated their dance to a teacher.

Most international: A cancer support group danced in Singapore.

Newsworthy: An anchor-desk dance at Alabama's WAKA.

Most moving: Grandma Lyon's Pink Glove Dance held in a kitchen

That spirit inspired more than 18,000 posts from YouTube viewers:

“This is a very special video … powerful, if you know what I mean,” wrote one. “I am always amazed by the human spirit,” wrote another. “These people are angels.”

And then there were the comments from women struck by breast cancer.

“As a breast cancer survivor, I thank you for your love, support and most of all, your laughter!” wrote one viewer. “Just got my ‘news’ today,” a woman from Michigan posted. “This video lifted my spirits. Thank God for breast cancer awareness efforts – it got me to the doctor early.”

“Then we knew …”

In the two years that followed the release of the Pink Glove Dance, Mary Akin, the cafeteria dancer with the red blouse and wide grin, still gets recognized. One cancer survivor told her that the video made her smile for the first time since her diagnosis. “Then we knew why we were doing it,” Akin says.

But one thing in particular confirmed Akin’s belief that she was part of something bigger than a dance video. At a conference in Texas in July 2010, amid a crowd of thousands, she heard someone calling her name. It was a woman she’d met one night at a convention in Florida. On that particular evening the band was playing in the ballroom, but nobody was dancing. In characteristic fashion, Akin had roused the chair-sitters to the dance floor. “I love to rock and roll,” she explains. “We got that place jamming for about two hours.”

One of the women in that ballroom was later diagnosed with breast cancer. Her brother sent her the Pink Glove Dance video to cheer her up. As the woman watched the video, she was stunned when Akin appeared. “That’s my friend!” she shouted.

And here, on a warm July day in Texas, the two crossed paths again.

“Talk about a God shot,” Akin says, “that she would find me in the midst of all those people.”

Providence’s Moore has had similarly moving moments. “We did the [Portland General Electric/SOLV] Starlight Parade and it was phenomenal how many people came to us. One just brought me to tears. Her head was wrapped in this beautiful scarf. She took her scarf off and shared that she was in treatment. She told us how much the video has helped her when she’s feeling down.”

The ripples continue

On its two-year anniversary, the video’s influence continues. The Providence dancers performed at a recent Portland Timbers game with nearly 18,000 attendees also wearing pink gloves. (See video.)

sequel produced by Medline involved 11 hospitals, four nursing homes and 4,000 dancers from around the country. This past August, the company launched a contest asking viewers to submit their own pink glove dance. Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Pink and Sheryl Crow have granted song rights for the cause. The winners will receive a donation to their favorite breast cancer charity.

For one family, however, the Pink Glove Dance was especially meaningful. Margaret Smith was being treated for advanced leukemia at Providence St. Vincent the day the original video was shot. Uncharacteristically, Smith decided to join the dance. Dressed in a knit cap and hospital gown, she grinned broadly and raised the roof.

Smith died nine months later. At a private memorial her family scattered her ashes in tide pools at the Oregon coast. And back in the parking lot, they put on the pink glove song … and danced.

You can support cancer research, and other services at Providence, with a donation to one of our Providence foundations.