SAB Trailblazer – Louis Johnson

Louis Johnson began his ballet training at Jones-Haywood Dance School in Washington D.C. after being invited by co-founders Doris W. Jones and Claire H. Haywood. He then was accepted to SAB and moved to New York in 1950 along with fellow student Chita Rivera.

Louis Johnson
Louis Johnson as a student at SAB.

In a 2018 interview for Ballet Review, Mr. Johnson said of his time at SAB…

“I had started out at the beginning and worked my way up the class levels…I was in advanced classes with Jacques d’Amboise, Eddie Villella, Melissa Hayden, Andre Eglevsky, Tanaquil LeClercq, Maria Tallchief. They were my peers at the time…It was a learning experience like no other.”

In 1952, Mr. Johnson was a guest dancer at New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins’s Ballade. He went on to become an acclaimed choreographer, dancer and director in ballet, modern dance, Broadway, and film. He performed in Broadway shows like House of Flowers and Hallelujah Baby! as well as in the screen and stage versions of Bob Fosse’s Damn Yankees. As a choreographer, he created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem. He was the choreographer of the 1978 film adaptation of The Wiz, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1970 for his choreography for the musical Purlie.

Below, watch excerpts of his dance “Forces of Rhythm,” choreographed for Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1971, which became one of the company’s signature works:

Mr. Johnson passed away just last March at the age of 90, but his legacy continues through his choreography and the countless artists he inspired.

Read the full interview from Ballet Review to learn more about Louis Johnson’s inspiring career in dance.

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