By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant
Nicole Johnson is a professional dancer and choreographer based in Atlanta. She is a founding member of the Fly on a Wall dance group, and is also teaching Modern III/IV for the Emory Dance Program this spring. Johnson began her training at a small dance school and then started studying ballet seriously with the Atlanta Ballet at around the age of ten. Johnson has also trained in jazz, contemporary, and musical theater. Since Johnson was so versatile in her early training, she describes a common perception about herself as follows: “At the Atlanta ballet they thought I was the musical theatre student, but when I would go and train in all these other styles they would say ‘Oh, the ballerina is here,’ so I always felt conflicted between these two worlds.” Johnson danced for the Atlanta Ballet for six seasons; during this time, Johnson would attend outside classes in Forsyth, Gaga, and other techniques, which deepened her exposure to the world of contemporary dance.
Johnson knew that she wanted to be a dancer from a young age and possibly become an instructor. In addition, Johnson had always been interested in choreographing, but was waiting on “her voice” to allow her to express what she wanted the audience to feel. This big break occurred when she ran into a former student of hers who asked “When are you going to start creating your own works?” This encouraged Nicole to take a leap to find her choreographic voice. Nicole stated “I think I am still on that journey of finding out what I want to say but am slowly finding it by starting to do it.”
Johnson’s choreographic process consists of collaboration between people she trusts and who are inspiring and creative. She pursues ideas that are experimental for dance and theater. As a choreographer she values digging deeper into movement and presenting movement that is varied, aimed at different textures, qualities, ranges, and levels. She says “I am greedy. I want all of it. I want to find the softness, the explosion, the sentimental, the dry, I want to try and find all of it.” Johnson also wants her pieces to connect with viewers on an emotional level and express her feelings through the dancers’ movements. When choreographing, she always leaves space for the audience to create their own interpretation of the work, even though they may see a different meaning than the one Johnson strived to present.
Johnson is very involved in the Atlanta dance community. She is currently creating a new work with Fly on a Wall colleague Jimmy Joyner based on childhood memories. Johnson stated “I find things to still be very centered in a man's approach to art making and what is considered to be acceptable. I am diving into hyper feminine things and seeing what the shadow side of them is and how they are empowering.” This piece will debut in 2021.
When asked what advice she has for students who want to perform dance at a professional level, she says “Keep taking class because there is not a point in which you learn it all. It is a practice and you are constantly growing, evolving, and adding new tools and rediscovering your body. Because your body keeps changing, your heart keeps changing, so there's always something new to find.”
This spring, Johnson is teaching Modern III/IV for the Emory Dance Program. Her students are working on concepts such as energetic patterns, layering levels of activity, and being introduced to tools that can be easily accessible while moving. Johnson described her teaching experiences as follows: “So far I have really enjoyed teaching my class at Emory. It is really quite a nice treat to stick with the same group of students for a long period of time. I find so often that I am doing master classes or teaching adult classes for professionals, but getting to dive in with the same group and present a series of ideas and be able to stay inside of an idea longer is something I am really enjoying so far.”