Jennifer Brandel told us that “my 20s were a total hodgepodge of trial and error of figuring out what I didn’t like to do and then what I did like, and what kind of people I liked working with. I did some writing and production on an independent film. I worked at a wine bar as a waitress. I organized a musical benefit for the Japanese earthquake of 2011. I ghost wrote for a burlesque dancer.” These are some of the other jobs she had during her years as a freelancer, including one she likens to being “the bar mitzvah party dancer.”
Jennifer worked for John Hughes, the writer and director behind 80s movie classics like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. Here’s how that came about:
I helped edit this magazine called Mule Magazine that a bunch of amazing art students from Knoxville who lived in Chicago put together. I edited and wrote for that for a while. They started working for John Hughes and they needed more writers for this project that he was doing to make an online version of Shermer, Illinois, which was a town that is in a lot of his films. I was ghost writing as different characters from the films but grown up, as though they were residents of this town, like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, as a mom.
That lasted maybe three or four months, and then unfortunately [John Hughes] passed away so the project never came to fruition.
She also worked for a company called Thoughtly Crew.
Thoughtly Crew was great. They are a think tank of creative people. Big companies will hire focus groups to test out ideas and Thoughtly Crew is a group of people who are super creative and positive people. Sometimes when those groups have folks coming in to give ideas, or come up with names, or feedback, [companies] want to basically plant people in the group to help super charge the gathering and create momentum and help be really generative. I’ve probably done a couple dozen gigs with them where it’s a day or half day, working with a big group who’s doing a big project and we’re giving feedback. You’re kind of like the bar mitzvah party dancer there, trying to get people to be generative and keep the vibe high. It was kind of a weird job but it paid well whenever it happened.
And, for fun, she started a Chicago chapter of Dance, Dance, Party, Party.
I started Dance, Dance, Party, Party with a roommate. I was living with this great gal who I met via Craigslist when I first moved to Chicago. I was working out at the gym and feeling like I wanted to bust a move but I knew it wouldn’t be kosher to do so in that environment. I’m not someone who goes clubbing or wants to stay out really late, but I do want to dance my ass off, and I also don’t want to get hit on. I want to wear a sports bra and be comfortable, and I don’t want to take a class. I’ve never liked instructor classes.
My roommate and I started conspiring to make this class, and get a dance studio and rent it out, and spread the word. As we were putting it together and starting to look at studios, I was flipping through a Venus magazine I saw this little sidebar piece on this thing called Dance, Dance, Party, Party in New York. I was like, “Whoa, this is exactly what we’re talking about doing. I should reach out to these ladies and just chat and be like, ‘How can we amplify what you guys are doing and start a chapter here? Or how can we learn from what you’re doing?’” I realized that one of the women who founded it was someone who I had actually met before. This is a weird side story. I was backstage at Conan O’Brien two years earlier. She was on the show as a character actor for a bit, and I met her and I took photos of her, because she and her friend were on. They were super excited so I took photos and sent them to them, just a friendly email. So I had her email address. I reached out to her, “You’ll never believe it, I’m the lady from Conan O’Brien and we’re trying to do this too.”
They totally were like yes, let’s amplify and do this in other cities. Chicago was the first outcropping. Me and Jenn, my roommate at the time, ran that for six years. It spread to 20 countries, which has been crazy and still going.