Part I of Our Interview with Dancer, Choreographer, Teacher, and Explorer, Janice Lancaster Larsen

Q: Did you grow up in a dance-centric household? How did your interest in dance emerge? 

A: Growing up, my dad’s career advice was “Be a dental hygienist like your Aunt!” Yet his example was the ham and the entertainer, always the first to turn up the music and break into spontaneous dance in the evenings. He won a beach music shag contest with my sister when she was only eleven, and he has the fastest rendition of the cha-cha that I’ve ever seen on a hefty man. He encouraged all of my and my sister’s home videos and dare deviling. I suppose he just didn’t understand why anyone would take dance and gymnastics so seriously. Fortunately my mom had a perceptive empathy for my quiet drive and she secured support for my lessons. Her advice was “Do your best in all things” and “Follow your heart.” In that way dance became my path; when I saw others dancing, I wanted to dance too. It has just always been that way.

Q: When did you start making installations? What was the first? 

A: I was lucky to have many site-specific dance opportunities as a student. I’ve worked with a few choreographers who create for galleries, public spaces, nature, installations, film, etc. Determining what was my first installation would depend on how I differentiate between works that have been installations, site-specific, spontaneous, or alternatively staged (like inviting the audience to join the performers, or incorporating props, set, projections, etc). The possibilities for where and how dance can be shared are endless; I feel I’ve only skimmed the surface. I choreograph installations when I want to make more information visible, be immersed in textures, or decide it is important that audience have more navigable agency.

I’m interested in the way that installations highlight the aspect of choreography as encounter - encounter between performer and audience, encounter between both and their shared environment, encounter between presence and ideas.

Q: What would you consider a holistic dance education?

A: Maybe it is something that can’t fully be mapped because it’s individual and always changing. I think seeking what personally nurtures, both in rigor and inspiration, keeps dancers moving and compelling to watch. A dancer’s search is a practice that cultivates bravery and genuine presence. Perhaps the most important thing to maintain along the way is an open mind.

Of course, I think there is immense virtue to having a home technique; studying a system long enough that you know its rules and exceptions, long enough that your habits and gifts can be revealed, and long enough to have some point of departure for making things your own. A quote comes to mind, though I’m not sure where from: “All of the universe can be found in your own backyard, but isn’t it still so nice to travel.” 

Janice performing her piece Graze, at Judson Church,photo by Ian Douglas