It’s easy to see why Jump with Jill, the internationally touring rock ’n’ roll nutrition show, appeals to kids.
A music video for the song “Sweet Beat” features everything you’d expect from a chart-topping hip-hop hit: break-dancing, a DJ on turntables and a car displayed in the background. Another video, for “Get Me Going,” features a rapping Pitbull-esque character complete with suit and bling, and Jump with Jill creator Jill Jayne belting out Jennifer Lopez-esque vocals.
“Not only is Jump with Jill educationally sound, it is completely rock and roll,” Jill Jayne wrote in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper while on tour. “We reach kids in a way that actually interests them. The timing of our program is also extremely relevant to our success. Now, more than ever, our society is interested in nutrition and wellness. This allows us so many opportunities to bring Jump with Jill to kids all over the world to enjoy and learn from.”
Jump with Jill specializes in teaching nutrition and physical-activity habits through music and dance, with the goal of getting “kids to remember a song about water instead of a jingle about soda,” Jayne says. The idea originated as part of her master’s thesis at Columbia University.
“Jump with Jill comes from a really honest place,” says Mark Jayne, Jill’s brother, who plays the role of DJ. “We originally were tasked with teaching classes of inner-city kids in New York City about nutrition and you can’t just go rolling in there, kicking in the door with facts and percentages about how someday you might get heart disease. We had to develop something immediately to reach these kids. And that’s why it’s special, it’s why it works, because it’s not some corporate product.”
Mark and Jill were both in college, touring in rock bands while they worked on their degrees in communications and nutrition, respectively, when the idea for Jump with Jill emerged. What started as a street show in Central Park in 2006 is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. And through the years, it’s been a way for the two to stay connected to their passion for music.
“When you’re a musician there’s so many things that are running through your head about what’s important. Is it superstardom, is it money, is it response to art?” says Mark Jayne. “Jill and I always felt like we just wanted people to interact with our art and interact with our music and that’s what we have with Jump with Jill. We always respond to that connection.”
And now their business has grown to three casts touring internationally. Locally, they’ve performed for the Woodland Hills, New Kensington and Pittsburgh Public school districts. As Pittsburgh natives, these are some of their favorite shows.
“As a kid, [nutrition is] something that never really stood out to me, and I think as adults Jill and I really understood the need to make nutrition education interesting and fun,” says Mark Jayne. “Reflecting on when we were kids, [nutrition] was really square and really boring. We really do try to leverage what … gets them excited.”
The background of the cast of Jump with Jill is diverse, including an improv comedian, school teachers and dieticians. But the one major requirement for cast members is to stay up to date on pop culture.
“Every year the show changes. The attention span of young people today is getting shorter and shorter, so you have to be saying the right things, playing the right songs, having the right jokes,” says Mark Jayne. “Everybody who works here, no matter how old you are, you have to know the Top 40 songs that the kids are singing. Staying current is the difference between a group of kids staring at you versus them thinking you’re the coolest person ever because you played the right song at the right time, and they realize they can relate to you.”
While Jump with Jill’s songs and videos are stylized in a vein similar to Kidz Bop covers of pop hits, the lyrics have more messages than today’s vapid Top 40 tunes. Lyrics include, “I eat fruit because it’s sweet / Make a fruit salad / It’s so sweet” and “Grabbing up my spoon and bowl / pouring in my cereal / Splash it with some low-fat milk.”
“Music speaks to everyone young and old,” says Jill Jayne via email. “We feel here at Jump with Jill that no one likes to be bored, especially kids. Music is that universal language that immediately connects us. From there, we are able to open the larger conversation about nutrition and why it rocks so hard!”
Ultimately, for Mark, Jill and their fellow cast members, being a part of Jump with Jill is a way to fight against the mass promotion of unhealthy foods. They also say it helps promote the importance of ensuring that children have access to healthy foods.
“I’ve always had a passion for inspiring and educating students, so being able to put my passion for teaching with my passion for performing together to empower students to make healthy choices for themselves is incredible,” says Hailey McDonell, who plays the role of Jill in the mid-Atlantic cast. “I have performed the show over 300 times, and I still get chills when the kids are screaming for vegetables and nature’s candy. It’s absolutely incredible and such an amazing opportunity not only for me but also for the kids that get to see the show.”
For more information visit www.jumpwithjill.com