Terrance M. Johnson describes the seven men and seven women who make up his eponymous dance company as ambassadors. Dancers don’t audition for the Terrance M. Johnson Dance Project but are invited, and they must serve the community with their talent and be willing to help him on his mission to use "art as a tool to liberate people."
Johnson was born when his mom was just 16. He grew up on public assistance in Alexandria, Louisiana, a small town where, Johnson says, "most people thought guys just don’t dance." In high school, he kept his dancing a secret because "he didn’t want to be that guy." Finally, in college, he joined the cheerleading squad.
The corporate world brought Johnson to Dallas after graduation, but when he sought to be more physically active, he returned to dance. He took a few dance classes and then a few more, eventually studying with Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Chicago and the Ailey School in New York. He returned to Texas and went to Texas Women's University, where he earned his master of fine arts in dance performance and choreography.
In 2015, Johnson started his company, in which he and eight other dancers worked in the spring and summer months of 2016 to bring a dance training program and dance concert series to the Fair Park community. Johnson, always focused on social justice, choreographed the debut production. The politically charged Lynched received positive reviews.
In 2017, for its second performance season, the company presented a dance concert with the work of seven commissioned choreographers. For its third performance season, the company will perform with the Fort Worth Opera in its production of the tango opera María de Buenos Aires.
Most of the dancers in TMJDance have full-time jobs and rehearse about 15 hours per week, less than dancers in most professional companies. They do most of their work at community and recreational centers rather than performance halls.
"These artists live in truth, connected with the world and their community," Johnson says, "and when they are onstage, they are more transparent, and audiences respond to that."
The project's mission is to support historically oppressed communities through the art of dance.
"I always felt that dance was a way to get at the issues that cannot be addressed in traditional ways," Johnson says.
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In his attempt to serve the needs of the South Dallas community, Johnson has developed several programs. He hopes to aid in the physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of youth and provide families a chance at the economic mobility.
The Social Emotional Evaluation and Development Program uses dance and movement to aid students with discipline problems. Dance as Literacy Language Arts and Service partners with campus libraries to use the art of dance to enhance reading and creative writing skills and to encourage community service among young people. These programs serve about 100 students per week.
Johnson’s organization also runs a dance conservatory that is slated to move to a larger facility on MLK Boulevard in the coming months. By providing financial assistance for students to take dance classes, Johnson hopes to "close the opportunity gap" for families with limited resources. In addition, TMJDance provides scholarships and financial assistance to help students study dance at summer training programs in the U.S. and abroad.
Johnson hopes that TMJDance Project can become "a drum major for social equality through the art of dance." He and his dancing ambassadors are committed to using "art as a form of humanity" to engage the community of South Dallas.