The experience of injuring her back twice during her over 35-year-career as a dancer and choreographer taught Janice LeBlond a lot about herself and her art, lessons that have informed her LeBlond Technique classes at West Point Grey Community Centre.
“I didn’t want to stop dancing because of my back injuries. I needed to keep going and pursue my art,” says LeBlond. “It is through these experiences and the recovery process that the LeBlond Technique started to evolve.”
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, LeBlond’s family moved to the North Shore of British Columbia when she was six years old. Apart from playing several sports and roughhousing with her four brothers (she also has a sister), LeBlond began training as a gymnast – achieving BC championships status at ages 13 and 14. An avid painter, drawer and sculptor, LeBlond later earned a degree in fine arts from the University of British Columbia (UBC). But her destiny was met in her late teens when she began training at the Anna Wyman dance studio in West Vancouver.
“I fell in love with dance in one second,” recalls LeBlond, who trained in ballet and modern/ contemporary dance and performed mostly in modern dance with local, national and international teachers and collaborators.
The LeBlond Technique
To recover from her first serious back injury at age 25, which immobilized her for over one year, LeBlond developed a water training technique. “I was already doing a lot of yoga and pilates for my back, but I went deeper; and, that’s how my own technique [the LeBlond Technique] originated.”
While LeBlond’s back injuries delayed her dance career on a few occasions, they also taught her the value of perseverance, and led her down a new path.
After her second back injury in her 40s, LeBlond “started to work more with people with injuries and disabilities. The movements in my dance classes also became more therapeutic,” says LeBlond, who continues to work one-to-one with clients at a Vancouver back clinic.
LeBlond Technique classes – originally run out of UBC before they were transitioned over to West Point Grey CC – are also heavily informed by her rehabilitation experience. “When I teach classes at West Point Grey Community Centre, they are very therapeutically oriented. I encourage people to do the best with what they have, but to push their boundaries to increase their strength, stamina and flexibility,” says LeBlond.
Exercising the mind and body
LeBlond takes a holistic approach to movement training that she describes as preparing the individual for “fitness for life.”
“I start my classes by working with the mind,” she explains. “We go through breathing techniques and clear out all of the noise that might be in people’s heads. Then we start with some really simple, gentle movements of the head and neck that are achievable by anybody. We move into the pelvis and then start working with the spine.”
“As the class goes on, the movements get more and more challenging, and people get more limber, stronger and healthier. By the end of the class, everybody feels really good.”
LeBlond says that class participants are adults of all ages, and some of the fittest are seniors. “Some class members are doing things in their 70s that they couldn’t do when they were 17!”
Coping with coronavirus
One member of LeBlond’s program has attended her classes at West Point Grey CC since they first started over 32 years ago. Many others have been regulars for years. This, LeBlond notes, has made cancelling classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic particularly challenging for her and her participants.
“Many people who came regularly to my class have bonded together over the years. We’re like a family,” she says. To help bridge the distance, LeBlond has offered online classes and private lessons. “I find a way to persevere in the face of challenges,” she says. “I find a way to burrow through.”
When she’s not teaching the LeBlond Technique or dancing, LeBlond keeps busy on the hiking trails, in a kayak and as a dog trainer.
“My philosophy is to take care,” she says. “When you take care of others, you take care of yourself, too. I believe we are all connected, so we all need to take care of our planet and one another.”