Kyra Johnson founded her own dance and performance company to embrace the contributions of Black and brown dancers while cultivating a space for artists to explore themselves.
“I noticed a common thread throughout all my experiences that I was the only Black girl in the room,” she said.
Operated by a team of all women of color, KLJ Movement recognizes dance as vital means to building critical thinking skills and challenging social norms. Johnson, the founder, serves as artistic director alongside co-director and recruitment coordinator Birdy Brzeziński, co-directors Maurissa Powell and Ximena Linares, and administrative lead Veronica Castillo. The organization provides artistic opportunities for artists to expand their expression through performance.
“I can’t speak for everyone but I know the process of finding myself through dance was by challenging myself in positive ways [that] would help me as a dancer, but at the same time, experiencing the racial discrimination, the body shaming, and other things have helped shape how I view myself as a Black woman period,” Johnson said.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a bachelor of arts in dance and psychology, Johnson thought about what her next step would be. During the pandemic, she decided to forge her own opportunity inspired by something she was most passionate about.
“I formally started training in a studio at the age of 10 but my mother would say I began dancing in the wound so all of my life,” Johnson said.
Through training, she explored various forms of dance as a child such as ballet, jazz, modern dance, and most recently Hip Hop. She would also play music and have dance battles with her cousins. For Johnson, she found joy, liberation, and empowerment through dance.
“Honestly, it’s like this healing process and it’s so mindless that it’s mindful,” Johnson said.
She also found body movement therapeutic but also enlightening. In recent months, Johnson participated in virtual classes both within the state, nation, and globe because of the pandemic. She described this as a unique experience because you get to see people in new environments or their home environments.
She realized not all institutions showcase the full spectrum of diversity within dance. After her own journey of self-discovery and exploration through dance, Johnson hopes to create a space for other people to get to know themselves and their identities.
“I was thinking about my experiences as a mover and that’s when I started diving into other styles of movement,” she said. “If I’m feeling a lot of pain in my heart, I’m dancing from my center and if I’m feeling the weight of the world, I might feel in my shoulders.”
At the moment, KLJ Movement offers courses in modern dance, ballet, funk fusion, Indigenous foundations, and global influences. Johnson credits her team and friends for helping her build the infrastructure, supporting her endeavor, and helping get her business off the ground.
“Honestly, it was not a solo effort. I give most of the credit to my support system,” Johnson said.
KLJ Movement plans to host at least three performances per year open to the public. The organization also offers courses for children and adults on Sundays.
Courses run for 15 weeks per season, except summer which runs eight weeks.
“Right now, I have five young students and one adult student,” Johnson said.
So far, the classes have taken place at the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s east side; KLJ Movement just announced this morning that they’ve secured their own studio space at Yahara Terrace, 320 W Broadway in Monona.
KLJ Movement also offers pop-up classes open to all ages and skill levels for people who would like to take a class without enrolling. The styles of these workshops vary based on the teaching artist. These workshops are held Saturday mornings. Instructors for each week will be announced on the home page.
“We’re ramping up for our summer season. All of May will be enrollment time,” Johnson said.
To enroll for the summer, community members can visit KLJ Movement’s website: https://kljmovement.org/.