Ashley Johnson has always loved to dance.
“I have always been into entertainment – putting shows together and telling stories,” the Atlanta native said.
Today, she is pouring that love of dance into Ashley Johnson Studios, a new dance studio opening in the Midlands in June. Johnson describes herself as “A young celebrity choreographer who is shaking things up in the dance world in Columbia.”
Ashley began dancing at an early age, and has danced professionally since age 14.
“I grew up dancing in a marching band for my high school as well as my middle school,” Johnson said. “I danced for a studio professionally and was able to shoot my first project with a celebrity at age 14.”
Johnson was a dancer in the video “Show Out” by rapper DJ Unk.
“I was dancing with a group of girls in high school uniforms,” she recalled.
This experience helped to spark Johnson’s interest in dancing as a career.
“My love of dance comes from my dance coach back in Atlanta,” she said. “She taught me pretty much everything I know about the dance team world and the music industry world.”
Johnson became the studio owner’s assistant. When she graduated from high school, she got a full scholarship to dance at South Carolina State University.
“I was one of the first in the nation to do that for HBCU dancing,” she said.
Johnson enrolled in SC State in 2011. In 2012, Johnson took a semester off to return to Atlanta to work professionally.
“I went to work for Bad Boy South and the P. Diddy organization doing choreography,” Johnson said. “When that project was over, I came back to SC State and was the captain of the Champagne Dancers.”
She quickly became one of the best HBCU dancers in the nation.
“I received the Torch Bearers Award from the Mumford Point Marines that they give out to one HBCU dancer every year. They've given it out to some pretty prominent dancers in this industry, but I was the only one to get it out of South Carolina,” Johnson said.
Johnson graduated from SC State in 2016 and moved back to Atlanta to do choreography for music videos.
“I worked on some pretty big music videos. I've done stuff with the Amigos, 21 Savage, Gunnar, Metro Booming, Little Baby, and Money Back Yo,” she said.
After working in Atlanta for two years, Johnson got an opportunity to return to South Carolina.
“I got a call from Mr. Ellis, a former band director at SC State who was now the director at Allen University,” she recalled. “He asked me to come to Allen to build its dance department. That is what I have been doing for the past ten months.”
Johnson’s position at Allen University allowed her to offer scholarships to girls wishing to study dance.
“I am still looking for dancers until June,” she said. “They have the opportunity to get up to $10,000 for scholarships to dance.”
Some of her current students at Allen University are finding success in the world of dance.
“At Allen university, I was able to get my dancers in the Columbia City Ballet as featured dancers with that organization,” she said. “And I've already gotten some girls from South Carolina into music videos.”
Johnson wanted to do more for dancers in the Midlands. After seeing the wealth of talent in the Columbia area, she decided to open her own dance studio.
“I decided to open a studio where I can generate those same types of opportunities that I had growing up in Atlanta,” Johnson said. “To me, it was just something that I've always wanted to do. I feel like this is my adopted hometown. I just think the talent here is overlooked. There is so much great talent here, but they don't get opportunities. I was able to see myself successfully in the dance community as a high school student and as a freshman in college, and I didn't see that here. So it propelled me toward something that was already a goal of mine.”
Ashley Johnson Studios will open in June. It will offer a variety of classes for dance students.
“The main course is the Academy,” Johnson says. “The Academy is a group of young girls who will be trained intensely. They'll be pushed forward to see themselves as a dancer on Broadway, performing with celebrities, doing ballet, or whatever field they want to go in. They will be able to explore that. They'll also have courses about the fundamentals of the industry.”
“We'll also have some fitness classes for the community,” she continued. “And we'll have basic classes for girls that wants to be on dance teams. We will have something for the whole family – from six years old and up. We are targeting ages 9 – 22 for the Academy, 22 – 35 for the young adult classes, and 22 – 50 for the fitness classes. If someone who is 80 wants to come to the workout class, they can. We will have something for everyone.”
Even though the main focus of her studio will be helping girls who want to make dance a career or make dance teams, Johnson says that the studio will help dancers no matter what style of dance they are interested in.
“We have tracks for any type of dancer,” Johnson said.
Ashley Johnson Studios will hold its grand opening on June 15, beginning at noon. Johnson is inviting the public to come out see what the studio has to offer. Potential students will also have an opportunity win dance scholarships to the school.
“We are going to have food and give a scholarship to one dancer through a radio station,” Johnson said. “We're looking for sponsorships and different companies to help that one young lady take classes. We will also have a low-income based option for parents who aren’t able to afford it. We will be able to give them a discount on their tuition.”
Opening a dance studio is not the only big project Johnson is bringing to Columbia.
“I am also bringing a huge dance competition to Columbia,” Johnson said. “Teams are signing up right now. It’s going to be at the convention center on September 8. If you have heard of the show ‘Bring It’, where dance teams meet up and compete, it is going to be like that. I don’t think South Carolina has ever seen a dance competition this big.”
In addition, Johnson still works as a choreographer for music videos. Mostly recently, she has worked on music videos for Republic Records and several major recording artists.
When asked about her long-term goals, Johnson says that she wants to provide opportunities for girls like her who got their start dancing at HBCUs. There are professional organizations that focus on dancers, but none are aimed at minorities.
“These girls work so hard dancing all day, every day from the first year of high school through college,” Johnson says, “and then it's like, what do I do next? I want to build a national association of auxiliary dancers for dancers who graduate college and still want to keep doing it but don't have an outlet. There is not a large organization for dancers that are bred in HBCU culture. I want to build that organization. I am leading the light in that area.”
When asked what motivates her, she says “Get it done in excellence, and God and everything else will work itself out.”
Ashley Johnson Studios is located at 736J St. Andrews Road in Columbia. It is open Monday through Saturday from 3:30 – 9:30 p.m. To learn more, visit AshleyJohnsonStudios.com. She can be contacted via e-mail at contact@AshleyJohnsonOfficial.com.