As a child growing up in Mission, Gina Janus never imagined she could dance around the world.
Now after travelling through Canada, New Zealand, and Fiji, the art is bringing her back to where it all started.
The Mission Folk Music Festival (MFMF) was always a “magical event” to Janus when she was a teenager, and she has great memories of it, but this year, the memories of the festival will be like none other.
“I imagined and dreamed of performing on those stages, as a teen, but this is my first opportunity and I am so excited,” said Janus, who will be performing in this year’s festival with Fiji’s VOU.
Janus started her dance career at the age of 10, which is considered late, and excelled quickly.
“It was by luck that a lady from Scotland moved to the street I grew up on and built a dance school known as the Fraser Valley Dance Academy,” said Janus. “So, I guess you could say that I didn’t find dance, but rather it found me, and 25 years later is is now my livelihood.”
After finishing high school, Janus continued trained at Alberta’s Grant MacEwan University dance program and continued her studies at the University of Calgary.
She moved to the South Pacific after meeting a New Zealander and lived in Auckland for seven years. Janus worked at six different schools and eventually started her own company, Fuze Danze, where she met a dancer who introduced her to VOU’s founder and director, Sachiko Soro.
“Sachiko asked me to come to Fiji to teach a two-week workshop improving the technical standards of the dancers through contemporary and jazz, but also to choreograph new works,” said Janus, adding the trip changed her life. “The dancers just didn’t learn from me, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge from them as well.”
Janus developed a strong bond with the group and just as she was contemplating a move back to Canada, she was offered a position with VOU.
“As a choreographer and dance instructor, they are amazing to use as my canvas,” said Janus. “They are all like sponges and just absorb everything and anything I throw at them.”
The former Mission resident was brought to tears the first time she watched the group perform.
“They are filled with what they call energy, spirit, and mana,” explained Janus. “They have made me look at dance in a totally different perspective and have enriched me with new knowledge that has changed my approach on choreographing and teaching.”
Dance is not about the beautiful pointed toe or legs kicking up to your ears, it comes from your experiences and your soul, said Janus.
But VOU is not just a dance company, it is also a family.
“Even when the dancers are not working, they still remain at the studio roaring with laughter and chatter. It is their haven and sanctuary.”
It has been three years since Janus has been back to hometown. She is excited to share her hometown with her extended family.
“Returning to Mission for me so far has made my heart full.”
VOU will be performing on the MFMF main stage on Saturday beginning at 6 p.m. The group will also be performing at the Totem Shelter Stage on Saturday at 3 p.m., and on Sunday at 12:45 p.m.
The 27th annual Mission Folk Music Festival takes place July 25 to 27 at Fraser River Heritage Park. For more information, including a full list of performers, visit missionfolkmusicfestival.ca.