BEHIND THE J'S IN J&J...
Jan & Joan
Joan, a kindergartener, was enrolled in a tap and ballet class by her mom (Lucy & John Bomgarden were top roller skaters and danced to the big bands). After moving to Winnebago, Joan was enrolled in the classical ballet school of Gary Roberts (where BMO Harris Center is currently located now) and participated in the Rockford Youth Ballet Troup. Joan would sit on a red stool at the old mobile station at Winnebago corners, have a cherry coke and wait for the Greyhound bus to ride to Rockford to take classes. Then during her senior year, she invested $90 of her $120 to put in a floor, bars, mirrors and paint for the basement of her parent’s ranch home. Twelve students started classes at $.50 per ½ hr. Music from the record player would drive her brother nuts as he tried to study in the bedroom above. Since there was actually no heat line to the room, a fire would have to be started in the fireplace before classes started.
Then we moved to the old harness shop in the middle of the “main” block of Winnebago and fixed it up into a nice little studio. The building is now a hair salon “Reflections.” The old metal register in the center of the floor, that we had to dance over and around is still there. At this time Jan, having danced and done acrobatics, joined Joan and taught as well as started on the road to doing secretarial and office work. Next came a year over “Kashe’s Royal Blue” grocery store in a larger room, then we moved to the Odd Fellows Hall in Pecatonica for a rental fee of $100 per month. The long wide steps that led up to the dance room and gym area were a work out in themselves. We opened up a wall for a viewing window and found it to be 4 rows thick of bricks which were really heavy to carry out. We had 2 rows of mats, managed to get a trampoline up there and a balance beam through a window. It was reported to us that when the dancers and tumblers were working out we would shake the bottles on the shelves in the “bar” below us. A school bus was purchased and retrofitted to store and haul equipment. As the ability level of our tumblers increased we had to look for larger places, so we would rent the Winnebago Co. Fair building for the summer and we started teaching classes at the Byron Park District after which we used their gym. Ten skill routines would be practiced in parts then put together on the weekends.
We now are working with the Winnebago Park District with their cheer program and the Pecatonica Sumner Park District providing summer programs.
All four of Joan and Jan’s children participated in the programs becoming competitors nationally as well as traveling internationally. They became coaches and judges and now their children participate at J&J’s. In 1987 Megan Cunningham Gearhart won the World Women’s Championship Tumbling title. We had gone from the local “Hippety Hop” school to the "Home of Champions". The need to expand became clear and we purchased the land the current building is located on. Our husbands, having helped renovate all the sights we had been at previously, now helped paint the large gym and lay the wooden dance room floors. Our children helped move equipment and anything else we needed of them. It truly is a “family” business for families.
Our desire to give the local area an indoor swim pool resulted in that addition as well as the high ceiling for 2 more trampolines. The local adults benefit from working out in the warm pool water and many children have learned to swim here. The high ceilings were tested as Michael Devine went from at 10 year beginner boy to a college graduate travelling the world competing on the USA Men’s Trampoline Team, making it all the way to trying out for the Olympics. Then we added competitive dance and cut our office into thirds and made a second dance room. We most recently have begun a pom pon and cheer program.
The Charmers Dance Team was formed and today over 40 routines are entered at each competition. The dancers “Love” what they do and it shows in their faces and performances. From the minis to the advance level high gold’s and platinum’s are earned. Fun make up, exciting costumes, and friends are part of this team.
We have gone from hand written notices, to mimeographed ones, to electric type writers and then our 1st computer, to which Jan took to like a duck to water, not so for Joan. We never thought we would have a 4 line phone system, or our own copy machine, 6 computers, and office staff all of which we are thankful for.
For recitals we used to set up chairs, attach rented lights, and transform school rooms into dressing areas; now we are happy to be able to perform in a theater setting. Tumbling was included in our dance recitals. One year the fire alarm was pulled by a prankster with 2 dances left until the end of the show! Another time the school had just painted the stage and it was not dry so rehearsal was held on the gym floor in front of it or one time the school was having the curtains cleaned so we didn’t have any. We have done over 100 plus parades and well as shows at senior homes, basketball ½ times, parks, festivals, and fundraisers. We hosted 50 recitals, 3 state tumbling and trampoline championships, 2 USA team trials, numerous in house meets and clinics, judges’ courses, and Joan served for 9 years as Vice President of the national T & T organization, directing 4 national championships. Two of these were held in Rockford by J&Js and other participating clubs.
We should have written a book, like Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. We’ve seen everything from a little 3 yr. old dropping his tumbling pants to show off his new “Supperman BVDS” to the little girl in the 70’s coming in her new dance attire of bright yellow tights and matching leotard, “Teacher I look like a banana today.”
We haven’t gotten “rich” at this profession, but we hope we have “enriched” the time that students have spent with us. We have fallen short of some expectations, while others excelled more than they hoped for. From the basement of a home to a mountain top in Switzerland, the lows and the highs were experienced. Thank you to the over 2000 dancers recorded in our recital programs, all the T&T athletes whose photos line halls, all of our recreational kids, babies, moms, dads, and grandparents that have supported J&J’s. We are on our 3rd generation and love it when someone comes into register their child and says “Do you remember Me?”