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Virginia Alma Fairfax Johnson
Born: January 25, 1950
Occupation: dancer
Born in Washington, D.C., to Madeline Johnson, a physical education instructor at Howard University, and James Lee Johnson, a physicist with the Department of the Navy, Virginia Johnson began studying ballet with Therrell Smith when she was three years old and became a scholarship student at the Washington School of Ballet when she was 13. After graduating from the Washington School of Ballet high school division, Johnson received a scholarship to New York University, where she majored in dance.

While at NYU she continued to study ballet outside the university with Karel Shook at the Katherine Dunham School and Arthur Mitchell, who founded the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH) in 1969 to show that African Americans could perform classical repertory as well as whites. Mitchell convinced Johnson to commit herself to a professional dance career, and she premiered with DTH at the company's debut in 1971.

Since 1974, when Johnson began performing as a soloist with DTH, she has been able to draw upon her broad training to develop a wide spectrum of dance roles from historical classical to contemporary experimental ballets. Her most famous roles have included Mitchell's staging of "Giselle," a revival of Valerie Bettis' "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1952), Lester Horton's "Don Quixote," a revival of Agnes de Mille's "Fall River Legend" (1948), and Frederic Franklin's "Swan Lake." Johnson is most often praised as a lyrical dancer and noted for the dramatic effect of her superb extensions as a dancer standing at five feet, eight inches tall. Aside from her work as prima ballerina with DTH, Johnson has had guest engagements with the Washington Ballet, Capitol Ballet, and Stars of the World Ballet, and has performed in a one-woman show at Marymount College in 1978. In 1985 she was awarded a Young Achiever Award by the National Council of Women of the United States.

-- Zita Allen

Asante, Kariamu Welsh. "Virginia Johnson." In Darlene Clark Hine, ed. BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA: AN HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1993, p. 646.
Herridge, Frances. "Yes, Virginia, The Dance Dream Can Come True." NEW YORK POST, January 2, 1981.
Hoffman, Marilyn. "Ballerina Shares Her Art with Young People." CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, July 19, 1985.
Hunt, Marilyn. "Offstage View: Virginia Johnson." DANCE MAGAZINE (October 1990): 3845.
"Virginia Johnson, Starring in New York." DAILY NEWS, June 16, 1985.

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