5Q :: Doing the jitterbug for Jitterbug’s sakeA Q-and-A with J.P. Rennquist, who, along with dance instructor Megan Abel, is organizing the "Jitterbug for Jitterbug" benefit dance.
Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce impressed a lot of people when she quit her job as a Northland’s NewsCenter anchor to go help out in Haiti. The registered nurse has been providing aid in the country following its catastrophic hurricane since early February.
Now, it is time for Northlanders to show their support for Pearce and what she’s been doing for the tragedy-stricken country.
On Friday, April 9, you’ll have the opportunity to have a little fun while raising money for the Haitian relief efforts by doing the “Jitterbug for Jitterbug” at Peace Church.
To learn more about this worthwhile event, we talked to J.P. Rennquist, who, along with dance instructor Megan Abel (as in, if you don’t know how to do the jitterbug, she’ll teach you), organized the event:
Budgeteer: What prompted you and Megan to put this event together? Do you know Julie personally?
Rennquist: Megan and I met about five years ago when I was working at the NorShor and trying to get a regular Twin Ports salsa night going. I was DJing and she was a dance instructor. Since then, Megan and I have talked about doing this or that benefit but this is the first one that has actually come together with our busy schedules.
Julie and I met about 10 years ago. I was working with young dads at the Lifehouse in downtown Duluth and this Camaro with Florida plates on it pulled up to the front door. She got out and I was really struck by her intensity.
She seemed so young herself but she wanted to help out the “kids” there, she said. And she did.
That was the beginning of a great friendship; she is one of the nicest, kindest and most-approachable people I have ever met. I have always known her as someone who was trying to be of service or to help the community out, too.
I am honored to call her a friend.
Most of us know Julie is down in Haiti helping out, but how, exactly? Can you get us up to speed?
Every time I hear from her it is something different because she is involved in so much stuff.
First, she is doing regular nursing duties like bandaging wounds and helping to fix fractures.
But the first lady of Haiti recently said that mental health is a major concern for Haitian people at this time, and that is a huge problem for everyone there. So Jitterbug has worked with mental health professionals to create a grief support program that helps people to consider and deal with their complicated feelings of grief, helplessness, anger, survivors’ guilt and things like that.
Finally, she appears to be a sort of social worker or “mother hen” type, working with children who have been lost or abandoned and helping people to navigate the severely damaged governmental and aid systems in the country.
She writes about this stuff almost daily on her blog and on her Facebook profile. It is really amazing stuff, and very raw.
One time she wrote about having to give herself an IV fluid transfusion because she was working so hard in the tropical heat that the was afraid she was going to go into heat exhaustion, but she kept on helping people.
That’s how she is.
For those of us who know the jitterbug only from that Wham! Song (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”), how would you describe the dance?
I actually talked to Megan and some other dancers about the dance itself, because I was a little sketchy on it, too.
I think of the 1993 movie “Swing Kids,” which has some great dance sequences.
It is apparently a quicker, sort of triple-jumpstep version of swing dance.
Jitterbug proper is a dance that was made famous by Cab Calloway (of “Minnie the Moocher” fame). But, as I always understood it, jitterbug is also a general term for any kind of swing dance.
They say dancers look like a “jitterbug” dancing it with its quick tempo, big moves and speedy transitions. And it’s fun to do and also fun to watch, so this event will be great for everyone.
It’s also a perfect nickname for Julie Pearce, who is quite full of life and seemingly constantly in motion!
I saw you were DJing this event — what do you plan to play? Are there any new songs that would work with the jitterbug?
The dancers and I have just got the roughest of outlines of music planned and the idea is pretty simple: “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing.”
We’re going to be drawing on one of the richest periods of American musical history with tunes from Cab Calloway, obviously; Duke Ellington; and Count Basie — and that is just scratching the surface.
I have been a DJ for 20 years now and I think Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” is probably the best dance song ever.
But I’m not just hooked on the classics; there is Bob Wills with country swing, Dwight Yoakam has a version of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” that many people will remember from a Gap commercial during the swing revival in the United States about 10 years ago.
We have a range of tempos we’ll be working with, so maybe I will bring out some newer stuff.
I think you could swing dance to “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” by Jet, easily. There have got to be other songs that would work, too.
So much popular music has branched out from swing; there are lots of thing that we could try.
Finally, what other projects do you have lined up? Are you ready for another season of Movies in the Park?
I am really more of a community organizer or “rabble rouser” as I describe it than an entrepreneur. My really big new project is creating a new organization called “Father Fire” that will provide parent education to dads in our region. I am thrilled that I just got a capacity building grant from the Lake Superior Initiative to develop that organization and see if we can build something sustainable out of that.
That’s my main passion, fathering … actually, that and community building and families and DJing.
Yeah, I guess I’m a little like Jitterbug Pearce in terms of “what I do” because it’s tough to pin me down to just one thing when there is so much to do, so many people to serve. I have been involved with Movies in the Park as a volunteer and vendor with Speedy Wienie since the beginning. It is probably my favorite enterprise that I have ever been involved in; however, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that event may be on hold, or at least hiatus, for this summer.
I told Trent and Brita Edgerton, the organizers, that I am behind them 100 percent whatever they decide. They are fantastic, shockingly generous people and it is a great event with a lot of community support, but it also takes an enormous amount of work and money to put on, and last summer was very tight on all counts.
Whatever happens, I have a feeling the Speedy Wienie will be making a few appearances this summer. I know we’ll be at the Rhubarb Festival for CHUM in June; all proceeds from that event go to help area families.
I wouldn’t miss that for the world.
NEWS TO USE
Jitterbug for Jitterbug, a benefit for Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce, will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. Friday, April 9, at Peace Church, 1111 N. 11th Ave. E. The former Northland’s NewsCenter anchor is currently in Haiti utilizing her nursing skills in the wake of the recent earthquake. Suggested donations to learn the jitterbug dance are $5 for individuals, $8 for pairs and $10 for families. Can’t make it? Donate by sending a check to Duluth Vineyard, 1533 W. Arrowhead Road, Duluth, MN 55811 care of “Julie Pearce Haiti Relief Fund.”
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