Merel Janssen

Born: Wijchen (the Netherlands), 1988
Education: Dance Academy ArtEZ, Arnhem; Practical experience programme Introdans
Experience: Introdans (since August 2008)

“There’s nothing cool about living a long way away from your family, which many of my colleagues have to do. You do it because you do whatever’s necessary to dance. I’ve been really lucky that Introdans is so close to my home. And I appreciate my luck.” The dancer Merel Janssen hails from Hernen, a small parish about a half-hour drive from Arnhem. She looks inquiringly to make sure her words are understood – she values clarity. “I like to tell things as they are and not beat around the bush.”


It’s in her genes. She describes both her father, an employment expert, and her mother, a psychomotor child therapist, as “down-to-earth go-getters”. “We lived on a big farm. Besides his main job, my dad was also farmed as a hobby. We had all kinds of animals: goats, chickens, horses and always a pig and a cow as well. We bought the cow when she was a calf and then, when she was two or three years old, we had her slaughtered and ate her up. Then we got a new one. ‘So at least you know where your food comes from,’ my dad always said. No false sentimentality.”

The youngest in the family

Athletically gifted Merel is the youngest in her family. She has a close relationship with her oldest sister Eefje, even though their personalities are very different. “After graduating Eefje went off travelling. She lived in India for a while and also toured the country with my father. Now she’s working in Iceland. She’s very gentle, you never get into an argument with her.” But that’s not the case with her brother Rick. “My brother is a troublemaker. And I just fight back: boom! He’s a pilot but at the moment he’s working at a bank. He had just completed his training when the market collapsed. We all really hope that he’ll soon be able to start working in his proper profession.”

Dance lessons in the living room

Although the Janssens have been living in Hernen for several generations, the locals Merel regarded Merel as “a bit different” even at a young age. “I’ve always been fairly unconventional, doing my own thing, and I decided to visit a different school than my classmates did. It wasn’t on purpose, you know, but I just went my own way.” Merel’s dance education, too, was mostly undertaken in Arnhem. “I started ballet at the age of six. Actually I wanted to go along with Eefje to the local ballet class when I was just four. But my mum thought I was too young, so I had to wait. Then Eefje made a kind of ‘ten-lesson ticket’ for me. Ten lessons for a guilder which she then laid on for me – in our living room. She crossed them out carefully one by one and then when it was full, we started from the beginning again.”

From orientation course to preliminary programme

Once she was a little older, she started ballet lessons. “And I also learned to keep concentrated and to stand still, instead of moving around all the time.” At the age of nine she was allowed to attend the “special class”, which meant two lessons a week. Her teacher suggested she audition for the orientation course at the dance academy in Arnhem (ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, ed.), and she was accepted. So that meant another two lessons a week, four in total. At the age of twelve Merel started the preliminary programme at ArtEZ. She continued to live at home and travelled to Arnhem by train every day, together with her best friend Odette. But first she had to cycle through a wood to get to the station. And back again in the evenings. “Once my mother saw that I could manage that OK, she started to let me cycle by myself.”

Introdans programme for young dancers

After the preliminary programme she auditioned successfully for the ArtEZ specialist training programme, but actually she was looking for something else. “I found Arnhem too experimental and too modern. I also wanted to improve technically. And at exactly that moment Ton (Wiggers, co-founder and general director of Introdans, ed.) began a programme for young dancers. Joining Introdans, getting lessons from Ton while also getting practical experience and taking theory lessons at school. It seemed fantastic to me. And it was, too!”

Dance Audience Award

After her third and last year of training she received a contract from Introdans. “Actually they were full. But they made an extra space, for me. I was so delighted! And I still am, you know. It’s hard work but I enjoy every day of it. My boyfriend has a special sense of when I need extra support. And then he takes over tasks for me without asking. To begin with I thought a relationship and a dance career would be a tricky combination, but it’s just the opposite.” In 2014 Merel won the Dance Audience Award. “I can hardly imagine a finer accolade for my work. I’m just so proud of it!” She beams, but without any posturing and with her feet still firmly on the ground. Because that’s just how this dancer is.