Our platform continues to honor and celebrate all women who are impacting their communities and struttin’ in their purpose. During this Women’s History Month, we are highlighting Grace A. Johnson, the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Neema Dance Collective. Grace started dancing at the age of 4 and has evolved within the industry ever since. As an accomplished dancer, studio owner, published choreographer, dance educator, movement & dance team coach, and artist developer, Grace is impacting the trajectory of her community by providing them with dance skills, life lessons, and a healthy creative outlet with her studio.
Located in Maryland, the Neema Dance Collective is a dance studio and company comprised of local dance students, professional, and pre-professional dancers that study and perform a variety of dance styles. Read our interview with Grace to learn more about the dance company and its impact on its community.
Grace A. Johnson & Neema Dance Collective
Share some of the methods, including dance therapy, that you and your team use when teaching.
Dance therapy is a huge component of our daily teachings, both physically and mentally. Our classrooms are an open space to engage with peers and adults outside of the home and a stress reliever for many of our students that may be experiencing difficulties in other settings.
During the opening stretch, teachers ask them how their day was or ask if they have anything to share with the class. We do ice-breaker activities where students learn about their classmates and teachers; a freestyle circle where students can improvise dance movements; and also freeze dance with our little ones to help with body and spatial awareness.
Can you explain to our audience why dance and movement are such effective tools in helping people overcome both physical and mental health issues?
Dance and movement have and always will serve as a form of expression. It has helped me personally get through the most difficult times in my life. The art of dance requires the movement of your limbs. Daily stretching and conditioning have changed the lives of children dealing with obesity, juvenile diabetes, and cerebral palsy.
Children dealing with the loss of or completely absent parents feel a sense of belonging and community during their time in the studio. Children with learning disabilities have been able to use dance as an outlet and have proven to be a good resource for children on the spectrum.
Share with us how you are impacted by guiding youth.
My heart smiles every time my students reach their goals, learn a new skill, achieve academic excellence. Every time they win, it makes me want to do more for them and other aspiring dancers!
How has the community been changed by the local dance community?
The community has grown to be more accepting of other dance styles by the local dance community. Years ago, my Hip-Hop classes would fill first. However, my studio offers classical ballet training, and it is the most sought-after style of dance this season. That indicates there is a shift happening, and I’m so happy to see it!
We loved your latest promo video for the upcoming Spring 2022 concert — discuss how you wanted to represent your dancers and why it was important?
Thank you. I wanted the dancers to be taken seriously this time around. I wanted black girl magic, black boy joy, and a huge dose of dance excellence to be displayed. Today’s youth have been faced with so much adversity; it is so important for them to know that we too deserve to be recognized for our hard work and dedication to the art of dance.
We’ve all had to adjust through the COVID-19 pandemic. What adjustment(s) did Neema Dance Collective have to make and how are those changes now?
The studio went completely virtual during the beginning of the pandemic. As the number of infections began to decrease, we started having hybrid virtual and in-person classes. We implemented a social distancing policy that coincides with indoor mask mandates and implemented daily cleanings of our studio space and equipment.
How have your students responded to the changes? Include some of their responses or generalized reactions.
Students have been compliant. Although some are still uncomfortable wearing masks, they’d much rather be in a dance with a mask on than not have any dance at all. They definitely missed the in-classroom environment and expressed that it was difficult for some to learn choreography via Zoom.
What’s the number lesson you want your students to learn when after each class?
The number one lesson I want students to learn is that anything worth having is worth working hard for. Being the best dancer they can be required hard work and dedication to themselves and to the craft.
They’d much rather be in a dance with a mask on than not have any dance at all.
Do you feel like you are pursuing purpose? If so, how did you know this was your purpose?
I absolutely feel like I’m walking all the way in my purpose. I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing full-time if it wasn’t pouring into the youth and building successful dancers. I get ideas about the studio and the students in my dreams. I wake up most mornings with an indescribable feeling to show up as my best self as a studio owner and dance teacher. I have years of dance concerts planned for seasons to come, and it all comes down to me fulfilling my ultimate purpose and dream.
I think about dance when I go to sleep at night and when I wake up in the morning. I knew when I was 16 years old that I wouldn’t be a professional dancer, but that I WOULD absolutely be a dance studio owner and dance educator.
Our blog also caters to mommy entrepreneurs, can you share one piece of advice that allows you to balance motherhood and entrepreneurship?
Mothers are already Chief Executive Officers. We have the ultimate job of fulfilling the needs of the people that we’ve helped create from scheduling their daily life to college planning with strict schedules and strategic operations at the forefront of their success. I’ve found that including my children in my business from marketing to temperature checks at the entrance of the building, they’ve grown to love working in the family business all on their own. However, their time is their time! I leave my biz phone on DND when I’m spending time with my girls, and I always plan weekly activities to do with them.
What inspires you to give your best each day?
My children are my inspiration. Everything I do is for them. On the days when I’m tired, I think about my girls and they literally give me the strength to get through.
What keeps you strutting?
It’s the confidence for me. Seeing the product and the curriculum I’ve been able to build actually work for my students and see them be accepted to the dance programs of their dreams (The Ailey School, Duke Ellington, Debbie Allen Academy, etc) has given me the confidence to keep strutting! I love working in dance education, and the students’ successes are all the proof and the push I need to keep strutting!
How can our readers connect and support you and Neema Dance Collective?
There is a donation tab on the Home screen of our website. We’d appreciate any contribution that comes our way to help a family that wants to join the studio but is experiencing financial difficulties.