HJ/EDHerald Journal, Feb. 27, 2006

Lester Prairie women form Christian dance group for girls

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Four years ago, Chris Anne Johnson joked with her friend, Joanie Anne Bull, in her living room in Lester Prairie about starting a dance group for girls.

“We could do it,” Johnson laughed.

The two women, both of Lester Prairie, are about to begin their fourth season of the Christian dance club Jump 4 Joy Thursday, March 2.

It’s a club they founded, and now run as volunteers, along with choreographer Annie Ballalatak of Arlington.

“If you don’t have what you need or want in the community, you make it,” Johnson said.

The concerned mothers have a total of 15 children between them. They were worried that their children didn’t have access to a modern alternative to dance studios, which can often be very competitive, expensive, and too seductive for their tastes.

“I have four daughters, and to put them through dance – it wouldn’t be affordable,” Bull said.

Relying on Johnson’s experience as a choreographer in her high school’s pop choir and Bull’s participation in swing choir, the mothers decided to go for it.

“Our main goal was for it to be uplifting for the girls, a character-building experience,” Bull said.

Thus, Jump 4 Joy was born, with a focus on worshipful dancing, uplifting classes, friendship, and fun.

“It’s a real funky, fun atmosphere,” Johnson said. “We love the girls, they are such a great group of girls.”

What started as a group of 16 girls, most of whom were home schooled, has expanded to an anticipated 40 participants this year. The dancers come from all over the area, and as far away as Glencoe, Montrose, Arlington, and Mayer.

Having split into two teams in the past, an older group and a younger group, Jump 4 Joy will add a third team this year. Wee Worshipers will be for the youngest girls.

There are also several boys interested, but Johnson and Bull are looking for another instructor to help with that group, hopefully, a male.

“It’s overwhelming, we had no idea it was going to grow like this,” Bull said.

The group might also be on the verge of outgrowing their practice space, Bethel Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie.

Anyone ages 4 to 18 can join Jump 4 Joy. Although it is a Christian group, non-Christians are welcome, and the dance club is not affiliated with any particular church or synod.

But anyone who comes to dance, needs to be in it for the long haul.

“We take seriously their commitment to the group,” Johnson said. “The girls want their teammates to be as serious as they are.”

Jump 4 Joy practices every Thursday, and when it gets closer to June, when most of their performances are, they also practice Tuesdays.

Performances include the Lester Prairie Longhorn Days parade and community church service, along with several other town parades, music in the park celebrations, and ice cream socials.

The first time the group performed for the Lester Prairie community church service, Bull wasn’t sure about people’s reactions, especially the older generations.

But her fears were put to rest, as a lady in her 80s came up to her after the last community church service.

She explained to Bull that she was worried the girls weren’t going to perform, because it hadn’t been in her church bulletin.

But she liked it so much last year, she thought she would come and see if they were going to be there, and she was happy they were.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Bull said.

The girls also organized their own invitational last year, with three other groups attending.

Although the girls are serious about Jump 4 Joy, their commitment is more to their teammates than the competitiveness of dance.

“The kids take care of each other,” Bull said.

Every practice begins with prayer.

“The little ones’ prayer requests are so precious,” Johnson said.

It’s not unusual for the girls to sit in their dance clothes, praying for grandmas and grandpas, puppies and kittens, Bull said.

After the group has practiced its routines, the girls come together again, to cool down from their workout, and their day.

“We just sit down and talk about our lives. It’s not competitive or cliquey at all,” Johnson said.

The season is topped off with a special awards banquet, where everyone gets an award or trophy unique to their talent. The girls also deck themselves out in formal dresses for the special event.

Johnson and Bull keep the cost of joining the team as low as possible through fundraising, and using only volunteers.

The registration fee is $25, and there are $15 dues each month. Costume costs are usually below $50, and most often are paid for through the fundraising, so the dancers don’t have to worry about that.

If anyone is interested in volunteering their time to instruct, or would like to join, contact www.jump4joydancers.org, Chris Anne Johnson (651) 235-1650, or Joanie Anne Bull (320) 395-4273.

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