Work, Dance, Balance
Driving all over Chicago propping up public school meal programs during a pandemic wasn’t quite what Cindy Johnson imagined herself doing after graduating from Western with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance last fall (2019).
“Luckily this means I have kept my job but it means my days are consistently full of driving around to different schools and checking in on the schools I oversee.”
While at Western, she worked for Aramark in food service on campus. The company thought she showed promise and relocated her in their Accelerate to Leadership (A2L) program. “I spent a lot of time in Chicago previously with family friends so I was happy to move here. Not to mention the benefits of being in such an artistic city as a dancer.”
Keeping a Balance
Before the pandemic, Johnson was spinning a lot of plates. She struck a nice balance – dancing at Joffrey and Hubbard Street while working full time. She auditioned for quite a few different places in the fall and spring – peak audition season in Chicago. “I am always looking for new projects.” She was accepted into a few places, but couldn't join due to scheduling issues.
She took free dance classes in exchange for front desk and cleaning work at Visceral Dance Center. She sought out like-minded peers and founded a group of her own: Echo Modern Dance Collective. “We are a new modern/contemporary dance group that is creating and choreographing for a show.” The premiere of the show has been postponed, but they hope to perform “at some point this summer hopefully.”
“The shutdown has forced me to do a lot more Managerial work but it also forced me to take a lot more time for myself since classes have been cancelled.” Even now, most of the major dance companies have online classes every day and other screendance or video projects going up. “I love having access to so many different outlets; music, dance, theater, and all the other craziness Chicago offers.”
A shout out to the 'rents
Cindy always loved dance. Her parents put her into dance classes when she was young to give her a productive outlet for her energy. Growing up in Ashford, Wa., a small tourist town outside one of the entrances to Mount Rainier National Park, there wasn’t much dance. Cindy found what there was, and took full advantage. She danced at the small studio in town, as well as in Renton and Seattle.
“My parents are also both artists so I was always encouraged to pursue what I loved to do. I guess it worked since I decided to make it a career. Shout out to my supportive parents.”
Her dance training at WWU was very comprehensive. “We didn't train explicitly in specific styles – Graham, Limon, Cicchetti, Balanchine.” Rather, students learn the basics of many different styles from instructors from varying backgrounds. “I always appreciated the openness of the program to bring in multiple different professors or instructors in different styles for masterclasses and residencies.”
Try everything, live by water
Her advice to those graduating in dance, or curious about what comes next? “Try everything, especially if you have no idea what you want. Find a community to be a part of, online or otherwise. Take time for yourself. Figuring out post grad life can be stressful to navigate so find things that make you happy.”
Especially if you can find a place by the water – whether it’s Bellingham Bay or Lake Michigan.
Image top: Cindy Johnson dancing on the shore of Lake Michigan
Images below by Michelle Reid. Dancers are Kelly Vogel, Cindy Johnson, and Hayley Delaney of Echo Modern Dance Collective.