2018-02-13 / Front Page

Child's cancer plight inspire rock n' roll dance legacy

Popular Biddeford gatherings raise thousands for RMH charity
By ED PIERCE
Executive Editor

BIDDEFORD — One never knows when inspiration will strike, but Bruce Martin can trace his to a chance encounter with a little boy and his mother inside Walmart and then again at Shaw's Supermarket in Biddeford.

Martin, a retired Maine Warden Service employee, was with his wife Wendy on a shopping trip one aftenoon when they encountered the pair in Walmart.

"I came around the corner and there was this little 5-year-old fellow named Jeremy and it was clear that he was very ill and had cancer," Martin said. "I called him Shorty and he started grinning. Later that afternoon I went into Shaw's and as fate would have it, the boy and his mother were there too. I called him Shorty again and he smiled and waved back at me. When I left there something just came into my head and I knew what I was supposed to do. I decided to stage a rock n' roll dance to help families of sick children."

What was supposed to be a one-time thing in 2009 has developed into the twice-annual Rock n' Roll Oldies Benefit dance party in which 100 percent of the proceeds goes to the Ronald McDonald House in Portland to provide shelter for familes while their children are undergoing treatment in Maine.

Originally planned as a small gathering in Kennebunk now sells out each time it's held at the Biddeford Eagles Club and is a social experience with a devoted following of those who appreciate rock n' roll music and love to dance. 

Conducted in March and in October, the dance has become the largest community fundraising effort for Ronald McDonald House in Maine, donating more than $45,000 since its inception. The next dance will be from 7 p.m. to midnight Saturday, March 24, and tickets can be purchased for just $10 each.

Martin says that participants come to the dances to socialize and have fun with friends, but mostly it's all about dancing to oldies tunes that brings them back to a simpler time and familiar songs they grew up listening to.

At the dances, Martin has 1,600 songs at his disposal as the DJ and his extensive collection includes songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s and a few country tunes mixed in too.

"My personal favorite is The Temptations' song 'My Girl' and it's also my favoriter song to dance to," Martin said. "I also like 'Oh Girl' by the Chi-Lites."

He said through the years, the list of perennial favorites of dance crowds in Biddeford has turned out to be "Locomotion" by Little Eva, "YMCA" by the Village People, "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers, "The Twist" by Chubby Checker and "This Magic Moment" by Jay and the Americans.

"If I play any one of those songs the dance floor will be packed," Martin said. "'Unchained Melody' is really the one song that never fails. Even guys that don't dance at all are out on the dance floor when that comes on."

The playlist is lengthy and includes hits by everyone from the Everly Brothers to Little Anthony and the Imperials to Sister Sledge to Marvin Gaye and the Bee Gees.  

But there's one tune Martin says is not in the rotation for these dances.

"That song 'Cara Mia' by Jay and the Americans is nothing but a dance floor killer," he said. "It goes on and people sit it out. It's not one of my favorities to play, that's for sure."  

The atmosphere at the dances is nostalgic and fun. Club walls are decorated with old newspapers promoting American Bandstand headliners and there's opportunities to take photos with a life-size Elvis cut-out and more. 

Martin said not only has the community responded enthusiastically to the dances, but local businesses have supported the endeavour from the start, giving the dance committee substantial door prizes to give away and raffle off to dance participants.

"Last fall we had 61 businesses give us 91 door prizes and that is nothing short of mindblowing," Martin said. "We are humbled by their support and we could not have raised what we have so far for Ronald McDonald House without their unselfish generosity."

Martin said that some time after the dances became popular, he received a telephone call from Jeremy's mother.

"She told me she had read a story in the newspaper about the dance and thought I looked familiar," he said. "She asked if I was the one who had made her son laugh and smile in Walmart and Shaw's and I said 'yes.' She thanked me for doing that and told me Jeremy had died of cancer. I was so moved and it confirmed for me why we put on these dances to help families of children who are ill. It's a great cause, the music is divine and people come from as far away as Canada and Massachusetts to experience this." 

A few great seats and tickets are still available for the March 24 Rock n' Roll Oldies Benefit Dance and can be purchased by calling Martin at 284-4692.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 ext. 326 or by email at editor@journaltribune.com

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