Jean San Juan, founder of the San Juan School of Dance in Los Altos, died Nov. 9. An icon on the local dance scene who taught and inspired generations of young dancers, Mrs. San Juan was 86.
Dance was Mrs. San Juan’s lifelong passion. She started dancing in her native England at age 4 and began attending a boarding school for ballet at 9. She earned an advanced degree in ballet from the Royal Academy of Dancing in London when she was just 15. She opened her first school at 18 before moving to the United States.
Not long after giving birth to her two children, she opened the San Juan School of Dance in 1966 on Third Street in downtown Los Altos. The school continues to operate today.
“She was an incredible lady, a loving mother, a treasured friend and a gifted teacher, who truly inspired her students, no matter their age,” said Mrs. San Juan’s daughter, Suzanne, who also teaches at the school. “There was a kind of magic in the way she taught, in how she made every student feel special and helped each to believe in themselves, regardless of their skill set.”
For decades, downtown visitors heard the sound of Mrs. San Juan’s piano from inside the studio.
“Her unique ability to play the piano while teaching is something most every student remembers, as it was such an integral part of the classroom experience,” Suzanne said. She added that Mrs. San Juan "touched so many lives through her gifted teaching, genuine caring and sense of humor."
Suzanne posted news of her mother’s death on Facebook, alerting legions of students, alumni and their families. She said she was “blown away” by the tributes and outpouring of support and admiration.
“One more time!” was a familiar phrase heard by her thousands of students over the years.
“She was very firm but very kind,” said former student Kelly Wulff, who studied under Mrs. San Juan from age 3 through her high school years. “She was always very accommodating. … She definitely helped me find my poise.”
According to Suzanne, Mrs. San Juan established a 40-year record of students receiving the highest attainable level in the Royal Academy of Dance exams. She was one of the first Royal Academy examiners residing in the United States.
A go-to dance instructor for decades, Mrs. San Juan’s school regularly enrolled 250-300 students every year, and there was often a waiting list.
“It was hard to find someone who didn’t take a class from her,” Wulff said.
A stroke in 2012 forced Mrs. San Juan to step to the sidelines as her daughter and Jordan Micek continued operations as director and co-director, respectively.
Micek’s association with Mrs. San Juan goes back 30 years to when she was a 3-year-old “tiny tapper” in one of her classes.
“Mrs. San Juan was so much more than my dance teacher; she taught life lessons in every dance class, and was also my finishing school,” Micek said. “She constantly held me to extremely high standards, for which I put forth my very best effort to achieve. ... We aim to carry on her method of always teaching to the whole student – we teach students so much more than just dance.”
Micek added that the “downtown treasure” Mrs. San Juan created, as a “woman entrepreneur far ahead of the times, has a consistently profound impact on the Los Altos children of today.”
“Mrs. San Juan was an amazing woman who left an indelible mark on many hearts, none more so than mine,” Suzanne wrote. “She will always be my hero, my best friend, and my strength. ... I am privileged to be her daughter.”
In addition to Suzanne, Mrs. San Juan is survived by son Mark and grandson Jake.
Services are scheduled 3:30 p.m. Nov. 30, on what would have been Mrs. San Juan's 87th birthday, at the Assistance League bulding (formerly the Costume Bank), 169 State St., Los Altos.