Jan Bolwell was too busy to register the magnitude of her achievement — receiving a New Years Honour — until her latest play had finished showing.
Being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to dance and theatre, the Paekākāriki woman's reaction was one of complete surprise.
A playwright, performer, choreographer, and dance educator for more than 30 years, Jan has been a leader in New Zealand dance theatre.
"You don't think about this kind of thing, you just go on about your work, so my first reaction was one of great surprise," she said.
"The honour didn't really register.
"I was busy and just kept going as normal, teaching my dance classes, running Crows Feet — a dance collective for older woman, and working on my play which we staged in November at Bats Theatre."
It was a letter from the Prime Minister congratulating her that really made it sink in.
"You don't expect these things, you do your work in your profession and you just hope you make a difference."
Having danced all her life, Jan began with highland dancing when she was young before studying modern dance at Otago University.
Doing her masters at Birmingham University, she then returned and spent years in the education sector.
She has been involved in numerous influential positions in the education sector including being a tertiary lecturer at multiple institutions, dance teacher for tertiary courses as well as community groups, a board member of various dance advisory committees including the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Arts Council.
She was the national facilitator of Artists in Schools for the Ministry of Education from 2008-9 and has also written online dance education resources for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the New Zealand Correspondence School.
Working a busy life in the education sector, it was a fight with cancer that made Jan rethink how she spent her time.
Deciding she no longer wanted to work fulltime, she did a creative writing course with the Cancer Society in Wellington.
Run by Ōtaki author Renée who encouraged her, Jan discovered she enjoyed writing and kept going after the course finished.
"I wrote my first play about my father in World War II and his amazing escape story and with the help of a friend I put it on the stage as a solo play."
Writing next about her grandmother and always including a big dance element in her pieces, Jan was on a roll, writing more plays many of which tell the stories of her families' history.
"Nothing has been planned, everything has just rolled on from each other.
"It has allowed me time to write these plays and get Crows Feet going."
Creating more than 30 works for the collective since its establishment in 1999, the collective won the Best Dance Show award for the Wellington Fringe Festival in 2010 and has three companies in Wellington and Kāpiti.
Her latest play Welcome to the Death Café is a conversation starter about euthanasia.
"I want my work to be useful, to have social relevance."
With many of her works sharing her family's personal stories, Jan finds it most rewarding when her audience share their stories in response.
"I've had the most astonishing conversations.
"People come up to me not to talk about what I have given them but to share their stories."
Another highlight of her career has been seeing ordinary woman, many of whom have never had any training in dance, get up on the stage and perform with Crows Feet.
"They perform wonderfully and with integrity.
"There's been no grand plan.
"If I had still been working fulltime in tertiary education, I wouldn't have had time to do all these things.
"I wouldn't wish breast cancer on anyone but it really did dramatically change my life.
"Life turns in many interesting ways — you can turn adversity into an advantage."