Professor and artistic director Jonette Lancos finds joy helping students find their own flow and freedom on stage.
By Kris Dreessen
Professor of Dance Jonette Lancos took her first dance lesson at age 7, with the girls on her street who wanted to learn tap. When they eventually dropped out, she kept going, adding different styles. By age 12, she performed her own choreography at a community festival.
Many performances, studios and directing positions later, Lancos joined Geneseo faculty in 1976 to mentor more experienced dancers and help new dancers find their potential and flow.
Over the last 46 years, she has taught every class in the department, developed new courses and has guided the Geneseo Dance Ensemble through several evolutions as its artistic director. Each year, she collaborates with student assistants, who gain leadership, production and creative skills organizing public performances.
She’s one of the college’s longest-serving faculty members — and she can’t imagine retiring soon.
“It’s difficult to define what has created this passion in me,” says Lancos. “Dance is a combination of art and creativity and the physical and intellectual. When I am dancing and when I am teaching, I am in the flow.”
Q: How have you been inspired by your students?
A: “Students inspire me daily by their dedication to the dance program, even if they have not officially chosen it as a minor or concentration. They have such openness and gratitude. They show their appreciation for the opportunities, and I show it back. It’s a constant cycle of respect. They are quite remarkable in that way. We collaborate and encourage each other.”
Q: How does dance benefit students?
A: “Dance is all about problem-solving, being creative and collaboration. We workshop dynamic range, breathing, movement with rhythm and other components for each piece. My students have always been part of the choreographic process. They need to work together to create and perform, but they also have independence to make it their own. There is freedom. Along the way, they develop organization, time management and people skills.”
Q: What have you learned from your students during the years?
A: “They have taught me to be more flexible in the shared creative process, and be very clear. They have helped me be not just fair but equitable, especially in terms of creating together. They continually teach me how to teach. They challenge me and that’s wonderful. Every semester, I start over, using everything I have learned from the previous semester. I am constantly evolving as a faculty member and mentor because of them.”
Q: The Geneseo Dance Ensemble recently celebrate its 55th anniversary this year. Why has it been so successful?
A: “The program provides an opportunity for students to become proficient in scholarship within dance performance, and the students contribute with choreography and their own pieces. We have had wonderful support all these years from the college and from role models like Bertha V.B. Lederer (former Geneseo professor who championed fine arts) and Myrtle Merritt (Geneseo physical education professor for 30 years), and others. I take that to heart.”
Q: Students who major in business and other disciplines often choose to take dance courses or perform in the Geneseo Dance Ensemble. What does this demonstrate about Geneseo students?
A: “Dance is often a welcome, total break from their usual studies, and the stress that those fields can bring. Dance gives them an opportunity to focus, be free and not think of anything else. It also shows that our students are multi-faceted.”
Q: What is the greatest reward working with students?
A: “Those students who have danced before they come to Geneseo come with such knowledge and artistry — and I get to see them mature as an artist and person during their years here. Others come to Geneseo, sometimes with limited experience, and I am able to see them gain confidence in choreography, production and performing as they grow. It’s amazing to be a part of it. That’s why I can never retire; each semester, I want to see them bloom.
Q: Why have you chosen to stay at Geneseo for more than four decades?
A: “I love it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to retire, and immediately think, ‘No!’; I have more ideas and I want to mentor students until they graduate. Then, a new class comes in and I want to stay to see them through, again. I want to inspire and mentor students who come to Geneseo to be the best they can be for as long as I am able.”