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2021 Graduates: Damarion Johnson Finds Freedom, Power in Dance

damarion johnsonEver since he was little, Damarion Johnson could dance. 

He thinks he started when he was 5 or 6. He would dance for fun, watch Usher and Chris Brown and easily replicate those hip hop moves — even without any formal training. Then, he’d dream about going out and performing for the world. 

“What I like about dance is that it’s more or less an escape for me,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been the type to enjoy music itself. It’s like my therapy. It takes me out of dark places. Music and dance make me have a better day.” 

As he got older, he started to wonder if he could take his freestyle skills and actually turn them into a career, perhaps as a choreographer. 

Johnson, 18, got the opportunity to hone his dance skills as a student at Loy Norrix High School, where he participated in the Education For the Arts, a Kalamazoo RESA program, beginning in his sophomore year. While he continued to pursue hip hop dance, he also had the chance to learn jazz, contemporary and West African dance. At Norrix, he performed at pep assemblies and basketball games - as well as at Bronson Park events and with guest choreographers. 

As a Kalamazoo Public Schools student, he attended Arcadia and Woodward elementary schools, Milwood Magnet School, and Loy Norrix. 

He graduated in June and in the fall he’ll be attending Western Michigan University, where he is considering majoring in film, video and media studies with a minor in Chinese — a language he studied for two years at Norrix.

 This summer he’s working at the Boys & Girls Club of Kalamazoo, where he has worked for almost four years. 

Even though he doesn’t plan to major in dance, he anticipates it will remain a strong part of his life. 

“When you enter the dance studio, that feeling of being able to move your body and enjoy it all at the same time gives you a sense of freedom and empowerment,” Johnson said. “And, it’s not just about yourself. It’s about the people watching you, enjoying the dance and looking at all of those things. There is a good interaction between yourself and the audience.” 

His experience with EFA added depth to his dancing — especially his classes in modern and contemporary — and gave him confidence to begin choreographing works for himself and others, he said. 

“What I mainly liked about EFA is how much it took me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I’m a person who catches on to things fairly quickly when it comes down to dance, but if I don’t get things at first, I stick with it until I get used to it. It was like that with jazz and modern and contemporary. As I started to get more and more comfortable doing these things every day, it started to resonate with me and become a part of me.”