Working in Clark County: Jan Asai: Columbia Dance Studio director

By Mary Ricks, Columbian news assistant

Published:

 

Jan Asai, a dancer all the way through college, is passionate about the arts community in Vancouver. She worked as an accountant, then helped launch a nonprofit dance studio in retirement. With the support of her husband, Winston, she has been able to devote herself to volunteer activities. "At the end of the day," Asai says, "I feel so blessed."

Name: Jan Asai, 360-737-1922.

Job/employer: Volunteer executive director of Columbia Dance Company.

Age: 63.

Professional background: Retired accountant for several companies, taught accounting at Clark College and last worked as general manager at T.H.I.S. Computer Solutions until it closed in 2003.

Education: Bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's degree in business administration, both from Oregon State University, and is a certified public account.

Residence: Felida.

One word to describe yourself: Passionate.

How it started: I had been a dancer all the way through college. When I was in my mid-30s I was looking for a dance studio for my 5-year-old daughter. I enrolled her at the Academy of Ballet Arts studio and I started taking lessons from Wendy de la Harpe, the jazz teacher. De la Harpe wanted help to start putting on performances. In early 1989, the two of us founded Columbia Dance and in September we were granted nonprofit status. We started looking for inexpensive space for classes and rehearsals in vacant buildings downtown. We moved a lot. After de la Harpe returned to her native South Africa, I hired Jan Hurst, a dance teacher from Portland, in 1996. Hurst bought the building at 17th and Broadway. … The remodeling estimate escalated to $650,000 and three years. My lead donor was Leslie Durst (a philanthropist and supporter of the arts), which helped me to get grants from Murdock Trust and Meyer Memorial Trust (for some of the cost).

Most challenging part of job: As I was getting started, I did not know how I was going to raise the money. Today my challenge is how to continually improve, from our bookkeeping practices to increases in staff. We are trying to build for the future, something beyond my time with the company.

Most rewarding part of job: I am most proud of the wonderful culture we have at the studio. We support each other like a family. I have made lifelong friends and I can't leave because it means so much to me. I get to watch beginning dancers until they graduate from high school, and then some bring their children back. We started with eight dancers and now have nearly 200.

Something you would like to do over: I am not a person who thinks about doing things over.

Best feature of my community: I am a downtown girl. I spend a lot of time in the Uptown part of downtown. I like the small-town feel, the vendors, visiting the shops. I try to buy local and frequent local businesses. I like the eclectic mix and watching the vibrancy emerge.

What would make your community a better place: More diversity.

Favorites: La Bottega, Provecho Mexican Grill and Mint Tea.

Hobbies: I am an amateur decorator. I like reading the magazines, watching HGTV and am constantly rearranging furniture.

Volunteer activities: I am a member of Vancouver Rotary and on the Vancouver Sister City committee. I support the annual Sakura Festival at Clark College in honor of Vancouver's sister city, Joyo, Japan. I am a member of the Friends of the Arts and help with Art on the Boulevard gallery. I am a member of the board of Educational Opportunities for Children and Families and am chairman of the day school board at Salmon Creek United Methodist Church.

Favorite travel destination: Hawaii.

Most interesting play/movie/arts event: Enjoyed "The Butler," especially since it was based on a real event.

One thing you want to do this year: I promised myself and my husband, Winston, that as I closed in on 65 I would try to winnow down my schedule and reduce my volunteer commitments.

Something you want to do within five years: I hope to be a grandmother in the next five years.

Person you'd most like to meet: I would like to meet the pope and the Dalai Lama. I would have loved to meet Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. They are all such inspirational people.