Juneau dance instructor honored

Arts council gives Janice Holst lifetime achievement award

Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

About 30 years ago, an East Coast dance instructor and her Coast Guard family made the long trip to Alaska. Little did Janice Holst know her passion for dance would lead her to create one of the most established dance studios in Alaska.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

During a Sept. 13 ceremony, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council awarded Janice Holst, owner of Janice Holst Productions, the Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 30 years of dance education and entertainment in Juneau.

"That, to me, is really my life achievement," Holst said. "That was amazing. It was really a surprise to me. When they called my name, the standing ovation was nice but embarrassing and very humbling. ... Without my family behind me, without my husband, Butch, and without all the kids, I could never have really done something like this."

Having taught a myriad of dance styles from Canada and Washington, D.C., to Virginia and New York, the mother of four came to Juneau with a load of experience. In Cape May, N.J., Holst had more than 1,300 girls dancing for her in a 10-room house. In addition to working in theaters with professional actors, Holst trained girls for the Cincinnati Reds, the Rockettes, state pageants and the Miss America Pageant.

"When I left New Jersey, I didn't want to ever dance again," she said. "I just left every dance record, every single thing I had."

But soon after arriving in Juneau, Holst said she accidentally stumbled into dance again. It happened while she was visiting the old Juneau-Douglas theater, a black, painted church. Another person in attendance recognized her as "the choreographer from the East Coast." The group's production of "Cinderella" then became a musical, and just like that Holst was back in dance.

Holst started teaching under Juneau Dance Unlimited, which at that time was an umbrella for various dance groups. But within a few months, Holst started her own dance studio, Janice Holst Productions, which often worked with JDU in productions.

"The purpose was just to share dance so all the dance teachers could have a place to come to where they could really work together," Holst said of her work with JDU. "There was no competition; we always did joint shows and fun things together."

After JDU's transformation to a dance school several years later, the partnership ended. Since then, Holst has seen dance catch on "in all sorts of ways."

"There were dance teachers here before I got here," Holst said. "But now productions are getting bigger, people are doing more things. Of course, I'm just following my standards from back East, taking kids to competitions and exposing them to a lot of opportunities, performance and travel. It's just a lot of fun. It's a really good program."

In fact, about five years ago Holst's dancers were awarded the Outstanding Career Track Award given to small dance studios.

Holst's students have gone on to dance in the Hubbard Street Dance Company, Joffrey Ballet and "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway, to name a few.

"For some reason the word got out about this award, and I got lots of feedback from people I hadn't seen in years," Holst said. "Everybody seemed to stay in touch, and we always try to follow the dancers."

Aside from being nominated Mother of the Year for her work in cancer fundraising through dance, Holst started a just-say-no program more than 20-years ago called Dancers Against Drugs.

The program, which offers free dance lessons one day a week for six weeks to students of all ages, also won the Make a Difference Award for the state of Alaska from the USA Weekend in 2007.

"It includes people from all walks of life in different organizations," Holst said. "They (express) things that are bothering them. And then they take our songs in a positive, upbeat way with clever lyrics and skits and they put on these little 25-minute shows. It's very popular with the schools."

Dancers Against Drugs performs at schools and various local and Southeast venues. Their next performance is Oct. 25 at the Mendenhall Mall.

Holst's list of achievements wouldn't be complete without mentioning the popular annual production of "The Grumpcicle."

"It features all of our dancers and special community members," Holst said. "You'd be surprised at some of the Santa Clauses and some of the singers. We've had Fran Ulmer, Bill Hudson, people from all walks of life, dads behind the scenes hammering away - it's a great, fun show for the holidays."

The Grumpcicle, which Holst started in 1975, will take place this year on Dec. 19 and 20 at Juneau-Douglas High School.

"Every year it's a brand new adventure and new story," Holst said. "The Grumpcicle is going to have a lot of trouble in Toyland, but I can't tell you what happens."

Like past years, the community will have to attend to find out.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.

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