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Kathy Johnson - Modern Dance Teacher to Elite Figure Skaters

About Modern Dance Coach and Choreographer Kathy Tirrell-Johnson


Ice Dancers Todd Gilles & Jane Summersett With Modern Dance Coach and Choreographer Kathy Johnson

Ice Dancers Todd Gilles & Jane Summersett With Modern Dance Coach and Choreographer Kathy Johnson

Photo by JO ANN Schneider Farris
Modern dance teacher and choreographer Kathy Johnson travels to figure skating training centers to work with some of the world's best figure skaters. In this article, Kathy Johnson shares about her background as a dancer, about how she got involved with sharing her knowledge with figure skaters, and what she does to help elite ice skaters be the best they can be.

For more information on modern classes or workshops, contact Kathy Johnson at ktdanco1@aol.com.

Kathy Johnson's Dance Background and Accomplishments:

"I started modern dance in Philadelphia at the age of 15. Was encouraged by my first modern dance teacher, Birgitta Trommler (who danced with Katherine Dunham, one of the pioneers of modern dance) to go to New York and take an intensive workshop at the Graham School. Martha Graham was the single most influential and important figure in modern dance and in my career. Martha selected me to take an invitation only class, and that began my journey to New York and the center of the dance world.

At that time, my parents wanted me to get some sort of secondary education, and not just dance at the Graham School. I was so distraught until one of the faculty members there suggested that I audition for the Juilliard School, which taught Graham technique, as well as Limon technique, and employed many of the same faculty. I auditioned, was accepted, and moved to New York to live and train there.

I met another great in the world of modern dance, Anna Sokolow, and danced and performed with her. After living and dancing in New York for a number of years, I moved to Munich Germany where I had an opportunity to dance with Tanzprojekt Munchen, a modern repertory company based in Munich Germany. It was with Tanzprojekt that I had an opportunity to work with some of the most well respected choreographers in the modern and post modern world, including Kei Takei, Ze’Eva Cohen, Rudy Perez, and Pina Bausch.

Having the opportunity to work and perform with so many different choreographers gave me the opportunity to develop myself as a versatile performer. When my performing career ended, I returned to graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia and received a Master’s Degree in Dance. I taught on the University level and continued to choreograph my own work, setting pieces on companies around the country. I continued to teach in private studios and continued my work with dancers, and teaching movement and dance to actors as well."

Kathy Johnson Shares About How She Got Into the Skating World:

'In 1989 while continuing my teaching and choreographing, I had my beautiful daughter Tess. At about 7, she decided that she wanted to skate. As a child, my dad taught me to skate, but I had never taken figure skating lessons.

We were taking her on her first “skating outing” and went to our local rink in Kansas City to get her skates sharpened. As we waited for her skates, she watched a freestyle session and was enthralled. Immediately, that was all she could talk about. She started in a US Figure Skating Learn to Skate Program, and eventually tested through the lower levels.

As she began to develop her movement skills on the ice, I began to notice the relationship between how the skaters were moving on the ice, and the way modern dancers move on the floor. The way the weight shifts and the placement of center, was almost exactly alike! I began to work with my own daughter off the ice in exploring that use of center, shift of weight and precision of body line. As others at the local rink began to notice the work I was doing with her, they asked for me to work with other skaters, and to eventually teach some dance classes for the skaters. As a Pre-Juvenile, she decided that she wanted more than our local rink could accommodate, and it was suggested that we give Colorado Springs a try. We came out over a Spring Break in March 1999, and that week proved to be providential!'

How Kathy Johnson Met Figure Skating Choreographer Tom Dickson:

'When we came out to Colorado for that spring break week, I noticed Tom Dickson immediately. I had not met him, and we did not know each other. I remember watching a session and from the moment he stepped on the ice, I thought he was a dancer turned skater! The way he moved, his use of center, his command of the way in which he shifted his weight were all hallmarks of a really good dancer.

I continued to watch him for the next day or two knowing that I would have to ask him “where he studied dance”. The next day, he walked out on the ice and to my surprise, took my daughter for a lesson. I was of course, very pleased and excited until we both realized that he had taken the wrong student!! There was another young girl visiting that week that had arranged a lesson with Tom and it was just one of those random mix ups that truly changes one’s life!!

That meeting with Tom started a dialogue and an exchange of ideas between his skating world and my dance world that has truly transformed the way we approach movement now. About this time, the ballet teacher at the World Arena was leaving and Tom suggested that I start a modern dance program at the World Arena along with ballet. We got together and developed a program that we felt would enable skaters to take what they learn in the studio and directly relate it to what they do on the ice.

Through very close communication and the free flow of ideas and movement from ice to studio and studio to ice, we are beginning to develop artists and not just technicians. In my modern classes, the skaters not only perfect the technique of centering, weight shifting, balance and counter balance, they also work on musical interpretation, dynamic quality and performance skills. I work closely with the coaches and choreographers to make sure the classes are addressing the needs of the skaters.'

For more information on modern classes or workshops, contact Kathy Johnson at ktdanco1@aol.com.

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