Juneau performing arts pioneer retires

After 53 years as a teacher, director, and choreographer, Janice Holst is retiring at the end of the month.

Holst has been in charge of various performing arts events in the capital city for the past 35 years, including the Gold Nugget Review, Dancers Against Drugs, and the Grumpsicle.

Generations of Juneau residents have taken classes at the Janice D. Holst School of Dance. For all but two years of her teaching career in Juneau, Janice Holst was the only teacher at the school. She taught more than 20 classes a week in disciplines ranging from ballet to hip hop.

“If you studied with Janice D. Holst, you had Janice D. Holst. There was never a substitute, because I love all my dancers and I wanted them to be exactly the way I wanted them to be,” Holst says.

Holst was a dance teacher in many places, including Virginia, New Jersey, and Canada, before she arrived in Alaska in 1978. She taught in Juneau’s VFW hall for 29 years, then the Elks, before moving into her own space in the Mendenhall Mall.

Holst developed a love for dance as a small girl in Fairfield, Connecticut.

“We had big drapes in our house and my uncle would always close them up and then he’d pull them aside and he’d make a big deal about it and everybody was sitting on the sofa and all the chairs and they were clapping and everything. From the minute when I did my first little turnaround, everyone was clapping and loved it so it made people happy,” she remembers. “It made me happy.”

As an adult, Holst found motivation in her son Caje who had a leg amputated due to bone cancer at the age of 15. “He was a one legged gymnast, a one-legged wrestler, and a one legged soccer player,” says Holst.

After Holst put on a telethon in Juneau to raise money for cancer research, Governor Jay Hammond extended the effort to 167 villages and towns all over the state. Holst was responsible for helping raise more than $300,000 for cancer research.

In the arts community, Holst took on many roles at the same time.

“She was the director, choreographer, producer. She was everything, and so she was just a ball of fire,” says Juneau resident Jack Marshall.

Marshall danced in the Gold Nugget Review in the role of Richard Harris, one of Juneau’s founders. He starred as Santa Claus in the annual production of Grumpsicle. Marshall’s daughter Tawney grew up dancing at the Holst School of Dance.

“She probably taught those kids more about growing up and taking responsibility than any school teacher ever taught. She did more for those kids than you can imagine and made sure they did what they were supposed to do and marched to the right tune,” Marshall says.

21-year-old Nicole Solanoy started taking classes with Holst at the age of four and is still dancing. She says Holst pushed her to go to Chicago last summer to broaden her dance experience.

“She actually arranged everything for me. I didn’t have to do anything. I was like, ‘Wow, Janice.’ And she’s like, ‘I know you like to dance and this is my little gift to you because you’ve been helping me with the creative classes where you started.’ And that was like the best thank you gift I’ve ever gotten in my whole like. And I got to dance with professional dancers and in the Chicago theaters,” explains Solanoy.

Tracy-Diane Lazaro is another dedicated dancer.

“She really tries to get you to be your best ’cause she can see potential. I really am going to miss her pushing me although I can do that myself, but I liked knowing that there’s somebody there as well that sees what I see,” Lazaro says.

Holst had a massive stroke in 2010 and says continuing to teach for the past three years helped with her recovery.

Holst plans to close her studio at the end of month and officially retire.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep dancing or be involved or sit through a rehearsal or rehearse somebody else’s dancers or something like that. I’m just not looking for a job or looking to do anything special, but if you play music I might go crazy,” Holst says.

When she talks about the future, Holst is excited to attend a high school reunion in October which she’s never been able to do before because she’s always been teaching.

And she wants to write two books – one about the history of the Grumpsicle and one about her son Caje.


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