How A Taylor Swift Song Shaped A Movement

Having a cause near and dear to your heart is a fairly common practice. With all of the societal and environmental problems that exist today, it wouldn't be challenging to find one that speaks to your soul. But what does it take to ignite your soul's desires into action? In Zoe Butchen's case, it was news from her father that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease that sparked her idea for the Dance/Shake/Donate campaign. Read on to learn how this high school powerhouse has captured the attention of thousands and transformed trial into triumph for her entire family.

All About Zoe

Name: Zoe Butchen

Age: 15

Location: Ridgefield, CT

Education: Sophomore at Ridgefield High School

Taylor Swift Movement

What is the Dance/Shake/Donate campaign all about?

After learning of my Dad's diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, I created Dance Shake Donate, which is a social media campaign that challenges individuals to dance and shake on video and donate to the Michael J. Fox Foundation through to support research to find a cure. Now, however, it has shifted to a much more event-based campaign centered around the idea of spreading awareness about Parkinson’s disease and creating a support network for all those affected by the disease.

You started the Dance/Shake/Donate campaign. What was your initial inspiration?

It all started when my Dad told my brother and I about his diagnosis. Although my brother and I both noticed that his hand had been shaking, we didn’t think anything of it. When the words “Parkinson’s Disease” first came out of his mouth, I was unsure of what the disease meant, and as anyone would be when they learn that a family member has been diagnosed with a disease, my emotions were quite unstable. After processing everything that had happened and learning more about his diagnosis and what it meant for him and my family, I wanted to see if I could do something to make it better for him and others living with the disease. Our family’s motto has been for Dad to just “shake it off,” so when Taylor Swift’s song was released and later the video of all the people dancing and shaking, I thought that connecting the ideas would be a perfect way to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s research with the support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Take us back to the very first days working on Dance/Shake/Donate. How did you get this started?

After sharing my idea with my family and hearing such great feedback, we decided to make it into a bigger idea so we created It all started with making a video to tell my story. I teamed up with my dad to create this awesome video, which serves as the platform for the campaign. We made the script and soon enough we released it on social media. 

There is a number of organizations that support Parkinson's Disease. Why did you choose the Michael J. Fox Foundation?

My parents attended a conference and told us how amazing the foundation was with sharing information and supporting research to find a cure. When we called the foundation to see if they would support our charitable effort, they could not have been more embracing towards us. They created a team web page for me and providing messaging support through their blog and Twitter account. They have even invited me to a special event dinner with Michael J. Fox, in recognition of my efforts.

You have had a major impact in such a short period of time. What has been your proudest moment?

My proudest moment and one of the biggest highlights of the campaign took place on November 22, 2014 when 1,000+ people joined my family and me to dance, shake, and donate on Main Street in my hometown of Ridgefield, CT and we created our largest video to date. Our Mayor, Rudy Marconi, agreed to close Main Street for the filming. His support of children making a difference sends a strong message that children’s voices matter. It was inspiring to see my town and neighboring communities come out in support of my effort. So many people and organizations volunteered to ensure that the event would run smoothly. And it did! We raised $12,000.

Like most students, you have a lot on your plate. How did you prioritize Dance/Shake/Donate amongst all of your responsibilities in and out of the classroom?

I’m always working on Dance/Shake/Donate since it’s something that is a huge part of my life right now. I am busy with interviews, blog posts, emails, commenting on videos that are posted, and saying thank you to the many people who have donated. Outside of school, I am involved in other organizations as well, so it just comes down to balance and knowing when responsibilities must be fulfilled. Sticking to deadlines has also been key to making sure that the greatest impact can be made in terms of awareness.

Dance Shake Donate Zoe Butchen

What is your ultimate goal for the Dance/Shake/Donate campaign?

My fundraising goal is $100,000 where 100% of the money will go directly towards research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Currently we have raised over $80,000. But, just as any other disease, awareness of Parkinson’s disease needs to be spread. While it is a very common disease in the world today, not many people know of it or what it means for a patient. In the United States, there are over 1 million people living with the disease, and for people not to know this statistic is unfathomable to me. I’ve received so much support from my friends, family, other organizations that I’m involved with, and many people have reached out to share their connection to someone living with the disease or have passed with it. Knowing so many people have been touched by Parkinson’s and feel the same way I do, compels me to put in my effort to help eliminate this disease through fundraising and spreading greater awareness.

What has been your biggest lesson from starting the initiative?

The most important thing that I’ve learned in the process of Dance Shake Donate as a whole is that having a positive attitude is the most important thing but you also need to be strong in knowing that love is a cure. Anyone who has Parkinson’s Disease is in need of love and support from their family and friends to help them through the struggles that the disease can bring. If those people are willing to dedicate their time and effort into caring for and loving the patient through these ups and downs, he or she can feel stronger and more confident while conquering the disease. Positivity can truly make all the difference in the world.

Zoe Butchen Parkinson's Disease

Behind the Scenes

Who was your first girl crush? Who is she currently?

100% Taylor Swift now and forever!

What is your favorite thing to do outside of the classroom?

Dance, traveling, and I love dinner and movie dates with friends.

What is your favorite Instagram account?

Humans of New York

What is your mantra?

Live well. Laugh often. Love much.


Inspired by Zoe's story? Check out our interviews with The Validation Project Founder and high school student, Valerie Weisler, and MTV's Taylor Trudon.