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Dance ‘till you can dance no more

Local instructor still at ‘full speed ahead’ despite 2010 stroke

Posted: March 19, 2011 - 4:10pm  |  Updated: March 19, 2011 - 4:24pm

March 9, 2010 was a day like any other for Janice Holst, owner of the Janice D. Holst School of Dance and Juneau’s premier dance teacher of classical ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop. Holst recalls returning home that evening after teaching classes.

“We were all laughing, having a great time at dance school,” she remembers.

She had a cup of tea while watching television, and fell asleep.

“At 5:30 a.m., I woke up and thought, I better get in bed.”

She stood up, but something was not quite right. Janice’s right leg seemed to still be asleep, and her right arm also felt strange. Not wanting to wake her husband, she called 911. She was instructed to check in the mirror to see if she could smile. She could. Because the smile was not crooked, she was told not to worry and to see a doctor later that afternoon.

She returned to bed, but later that morning her condition had worsened. Her husband took her to the emergency room at Bartlett Regional Hospital, where doctors concluded she had suffered a stroke that at one point paralyzed her right side from head to toe. A lifelong dancer and a dance instructor, Holst faced the prognosis that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

While in the hospital, Holst was amazed and touched by an outpouring of community support. Having taught dance in Juneau for 33 years, her hospital room quickly filled with flowers, plants, cards and visitors. According to her daughter, Mindy Bugayong, Holst’s past students number in the thousands. Some are still in Juneau, and others have gone on to have professional careers in dance. When word of her condition spread, people from all over contacted her.

“The nurses and doctors kept calling my room the ‘garden,’” she said. “The flowers were just beautiful and I loved every single one of them. You can’t be down in the dumps when there’s so much good thoughts floating around.”

While she would eventually regain her speech, Holst was left with mobility problems that afflicted the right side of her body. At one point, she thought there would be no dancing, and that she would have to close the studio.

“Everyone said, ‘Oh Mrs. Holst, you have to keep dancing!’” she said.

Encouraged by those around her, she was determined to regain as much of her mobility as possible. She and her husband traveled to Seattle and spent seven weeks at an intense rehabilitation program at Northwestern Hospital. If other patients were unable to make their appointments, Janice would volunteer to take their place in order to receive extra therapy.

“The therapists and nurses kept saying I was like the Energizer Bunny,” Holst laughed.

Her hard work paid off. Two months later, she returned to the studio to resume teaching. Now one year later, she is still going strong. She continues therapy for her right arm and hand and says she intends to recover use of it.

To her younger students, she described her experience with the stroke: “Imagine that you reach into your computer with your hand and pull out all the wires. Now everything you’re supposed to do is all disconnected, and it takes a long time to get the wires to connect again.”

A dancer’s determination

While stroke affects individuals differently, friends and family attribute Holst’s remarkable recovery to the way dancing has made her strong in body and in spirit. As a dancer, her intimate understanding of body mechanics, coordination, and muscle control, allowed her to respond well to instructions given by therapists. Her physical strength and stamina allowed her to do what was required of her in therapy to regain use of her leg and arm.

Another factor that assisted her recovery was staying positive and focused on her goal. Each day, she awoke early, got dressed, combed her hair and even learned to put on lipstick with her left hand, since she is right-handed.

“I just kept up the attitude that I wasn’t sick. A stroke was something that happened, but then it was up to me to make as much of it unhappen as I could.”

During the low moments, an impish sense of humor brought life back into her world. One of the first days in Seattle, the normally exuberant Holst sat in silence, allowing her husband to communicate with the medical staff on her behalf. Then a speech therapist joined them, speaking very slowly trying to coax a few words out of her. Something sparked.

Holst looked up at the therapist and said, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Laughing, Janice said she just couldn’t help herself to have a little fun.

“I don’t know why, the devil made me do it,” she grinned, remembering.

While in Seattle, Holst kept her spirits up by listening to music and watching ballet videos. One day, her husband brought her a very special dance video that featured her own dancers. Through the efforts of her daughter, Mindy Bugayong, parents and volunteers, the dancers were able to put on the annual St. Patrick’s Day show despite Holst’s absence. Former and current dancers took over teaching her classes and a whole community of parents and volunteers pitched in to make sure classes would still be held.

“We didn’t even think twice about it,” said Valleri Collins, a long-time student of Janice’s adult classes. “At the time, we knew what she needed us to do, and we did it.”

Before her stroke, Holst always had a knack for bringing together parents, dancers and community members to make her shows possible. Mariana Moreno-Goodwin, parent of a dancer and volunteer scenery artist, marveled at Holst’s ability to continue to do so after the challenge of having the stroke.

“Mrs. Holst always said the show must go on,” she said. “You have to pull out the best in yourself when you’re dealing with adversity.”

Moreno-Goodwin added that as a senior and stroke survivor, Holst models the very spirit of commitment and resilience that she encouraged in her students.

“She teaches us all that good things come to you if you work hard for it.”

Keeping on

Back at the studio, Janice continues to teach by giving verbal instructions to the students with the assistance of experienced dancers who assist by demonstrating dance moves. Two of these dedicated students include Tracy Lazaro, who has been with the studio for more than 10 years, and Nicole Solanoy, who has studied with Janice for 14 years. Both consider Holst to be more than a teacher.

“She taught me how to make good choices, and not just in ballet,” Solanoy said. “Because we performed so much for the community, she taught us how to behave in public with proper manners.”

“She’s like family,” added Lazaro. “She’s always been here for us, so now we’re here for her.”

In addition to the support of her students, Janice acknowledged her family for always being involved in her dancing career and helping her through her recovery. Butch, her husband of nearly 50 years, stayed by her side during her recovery and assists with daily tasks, such as cooking. Her daughter, Bugayong, is a lifelong dancer, and is her partner in keeping the studio running. All three of her sons — Eric, Brian and Caje — have danced with her, and her daughters-in-law — Amie, Sandee and Estella — have also been an important part of her dancing life. Holst also has 12 grandsons and granddaughters who are somehow involved in dancing and helping with music for the studio.

Last week, several of Holst’s students prepared to travel to Seattle for a competition of the Dance Educator’s Academy. Julia Fontana, Sydney Holst and Savannah Meketa all said that they had missed their beloved dance teacher while she was in therapy. Now, they are glad that she is back.

Chatham Tully, another dancer, observed, “It’s like nothing has changed. We have to help her a little, but no one minds helping.”

When asked about the possibility of retiring, Janice is unsure.

“I think about retiring, but I feel like I have a million more dances in my head, lots of ideas for costumes and more things to do.” She added that maybe later she will slow down, but for now, “it’s still full speed ahead.”

• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau. She can be contacted at jennu.jnu@gmail.com.

Stroke signs

According to the American Stroke Association, it is important to recognize the signs of stroke and seek medical attention immediately in order to minimize the permanent damage caused to the brain. Symptoms include the following:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

More information can be found at www.strokeassociation.org.

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