This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable
Home About the Film Dance Timeline Behind the Dance Biographies Resources Lesson Plans Screensaver
Free to Dance Biographys
previous next
main bio page
Louis Johnson
Born: March 19, 1931
Occupation: dancer, choreographer
Louis Johnson was born in Statesville, North Carolina, and spent most of his childhood in Washington, D.C. After initial study at the Doris Jones-Clara Haywood School of Dance he moved to New York in 1950 to accept a scholarship at the School of American Ballet. In 1952 Johnson performed with the New York City Ballet in the premiere of Jerome Robbins' "Ballade." Throughout the 1950s Johnson danced on Broadway in several shows including "My Darlin' Aida, House of Flowers, Hallelujah Baby!" and both the stage and screen versions of Bob Fosse's "Damn Yankees."

Johnson began making dances in 1953 and achieved his greatest fame as a choreographer who comically combines a continuum of movement styles including social dances to popular music, classical ballet technique, Katherine Dunham-inspired modern dance, spiritual dancing, and acrobatics. His two most popular ballets are "Forces of Rhythm" (1972), created for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and "Fontessa and Friends" (1981), first performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In 1970 Johnson was nominated for a Tony Award for his choreography of "Purlie," a musical version of Ossie Davis' "Purlie Victorious." He also choreographed the films "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (1970) and "The Wiz" (1978). Johnson staged the Houston Grand Opera's 1975 revival of the Scott Joplin opera "Treemonisha," which included a reconstruction of the "slow drag," a 19th-century African-American social dance. Active as an arts educator and teacher since the 1970s, Johnson has conducted black arts symposiums at Howard, Yale, Virginia State, Hampton Institute, and Morehouse College, and in 1986 was appointed as the director of the dance division of the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

-- Thomas F. DeFrantz

Dunning, Jennifer. "Louis Johnson: 'I Love Dance--Any Kind of Dance'." NEW YORK TIMES, September 28, 1975, Sec. 2, p. 6.
Goodman, Saul. "Brief Biographies: Louis Johnson." DANCE MAGAZINE (August 1956).

Source Citation: "Louis Johnson." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.