Interview with Iquail Johnson Part I

As a performer, Iquail Johnson has danced with Philadanco, Ronald K Brown/Evidence, The Fred Benjamin Dance Company, and Subtle Changes, and on Broadway in theLionKing, Hot Feet, and Purlie. As a teacher, he is contagiously energetic. He usually chocks this up to soft drinks and chocolate, but his excitement about teaching dance is a tangible force. That and a slaying sense of humor help him connect with students from all kinds of backgrounds in a way that makes dance classes, especially in Horton technique, an accessible and seriously rewarding growth experience for anyone. Johnson's teaching style is writ large in the company he founded and artistically directs, Dance Iquail , which uses dance as a means to address social issues for inner city youth. In Part One of my interview with Iquail, we spoke about the company and its mission.

Can you please tell us a little about the Dance Iquail mission statement, what inspired it, and how the company came about?  

Johnson: When founding Dance Iquail in 2007, I wanted to create a 21st century company that that would not only educate and empower dancers and audiences, but also be a positive influence to inner city youth through education and community awareness. 

Dance Iquail's mission is to use the art of dance as a conduit for combating issues of social justice often experienced by the disadvantaged. Working in the universal language of movement, we create and present programs that confront the destructive and divisive nature of racism, sexism, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, the needs of the poor, and the importance of family support and unity. These debilitating problems affect all people because they transcend limitations of ethnicity, gender, or social status. Dance Iquial's ultimate priority is to reflect those beliefs through its works and through the diversity of our artists, staff, and our programming. 

What kind of dancers do you look for?

Johnson: Dance Iquail holds auditions annually for interested dancers who have technical proficiency in modern dance and classical ballet equally. Generally our auditions are held in the fall and we encourage dancers with a professional caliber of dance training and performance experience of all ethnicities and dance backgrounds to apply. We particularly look for dancers who are performers on stage. It's important that the dancers of Dance Iquail be able to act in addition to having versatile technique. So much of our work is about the human spirit-suffering, joys, love, pains-that it is imperative to hire dancers who will convey these messages to the people in the audience. They need to recognize the pain of loss or the joy of friendship.

What are some of your goals for the dancers in the company?

Johnson: First and foremost I teach my dancers to be human beings above being dancers-to connect to people on the most basic of levels. It's in this vein that we can truly have the biggest impact on people's lives. When cultures and/or languages create a divide between us we can understand each other by the things we experience. This is what I hope one sees in a Dance Iquail performance.  

It's so important for me to give them the experience of working with other choreographers and artists. In doing so, they can grow as artists who have built a vocabulary of work and experience that will make them masterful artists in their own right. This season we are celebrating our 5th anniversary with three major dance concerts coming up this year, each of which will feature new works by guest choreographers from a variety of styles and genres. Currently, we are working with Christopher Ralph, a young contemporary choreographer who creates a fluid, circular movement style with driving counterpointing rhythms and moves fast across space. The second choreographer is Ja'Mailk, a contemporary ballet choreographer whose work is very intricate and technical.  The dancers are getting to have these different experiences that offer invaluable skill development and growth that will propel them forward, and make for great performances in our spring concert!

To read more of this interview and to see more Dance Iquail videos, click here!