Couple steps up in fight against Alzheimer's

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, March 6, 2014

JANESVILLE—After a month of practicing basic dance steps, Jennifer and Ben Thompson were ready to advance to the choreography part of their number.

Instructor Ian Hathway of Jumptown, a Madison group that promotes swing-era dancing, led them through it Tuesday night.

“Five-six, five-six-seven-eight,” he counted to the beat of his snapping fingers.

“This is where we get stuck,” Jennifer said in frustration.

“Ben knows what to do. If something goes wrong he's going to continue leading,” Hathway reassured her.

For the next hour, the three repeatedly went over the steps, swingouts, transitions, holds and tempo.

The Thompsons of Janesville will compete against four other couples in the Alzheimer's Support Center of Rock County's 16th Annual Dancing With the Stars competition Saturday, April 5, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

Each couple will perform a 90-second dance routine for the audience and guest judges. The couples have been collecting donations that earn them extra bonus points and will give them an edge over points awarded by the judges, said Dan Wilcox, fund development/public relations director of the local support center.

That's why it's important for them to raise as much money as they can through this event.

“I'd love to raise $1,000, and I think that's doable between family and friends,” Jennifer said.

The Voter's Choice award will be given to the couple voted the favorite team by audience members, Wilcox said.

Event proceeds will stay in Rock County and help the Alzheimer's Support Center continue to provide services for families, caregivers and those who have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, Wilcox said.

That's why the Thompsons agreed to participate.

As manger of the human services department at Long Term Support and the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Rock County, Jennifer works with a number of clients and families affected by Alzheimer's and dementia.

As an officer with the Janesville Police Department, Ben often responds to calls involving those who deal with issues associated with the diseases.

The Thompsons will perform the Lindy Hop to Frank Sinatra's “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“We have zero dance experience,” Jennifer said. “Our joke is the only beat Ben's got is his heartbeat, and that's tough when the Lindy Hop is feeling the beat (of the music)."

One of the couple's biggest challenges is finding time to rehearse. Both work full-time jobs on opposing shifts while raising two grade-school-age children.

To do well in the competition, the Thompsons said they have to stop thinking about the next step and loosen up.

“We're doing this for a cause. It's not about us or our dancing ability,” Ben said.

Whether they win or not, the Thompsons will know they put their best foot forward in their fight against Alzheimer's.

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