Marcia Owens Johnson: There are lessons in her movement
Antelope Valley dance and yoga teacher
Marcia Owens Johnson teaches classical ballet and yoga to anyone who will let her. Until she retired from corrections recently, that meant mainly children and inmates at Lancaster State Prison.
Johnson is almost 65, and has been either dancing or teaching dance for 58 years.
“I come from a long history of dance,” said Johnson. “My forte is dance. That’s where my desire and heart have always been.”
Johnson said she started dancing when she was 7 years old, training in classical ballet with Madame Alexandria Kosloff’s Academy of Dance in Bakersfield, where she was born. At age 16 she joined the Bakersfield Ballet Association’s Performing Arts Company.
She later moved to Los Angeles, where she learned jazz and modern dance at the American School of Dance under Roland Dupree.
While in Los Angeles, she auditioned for the Maggie Banks and Dorothy Dorben Dancers and was selected to join the chorus line. The line performed in the Harrah’s in Reno, opening for such luminaries as Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Danny Thomas, Wayne Newton and Juliet Prowse. Marcia worked with the troupe for more than a year, and while there she took classes at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Her studies then led her to New York, where she studied under three legends—Alvin Ailey, founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Arthur Mitchell, founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Martha Graham, founder of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Graham, in her heyday, was considered a goddess, according to a 1991 Time magazine article. Her students included actors Bette Davis and Richard Boone, and such ballet superstars as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Maybe Johnson learned longevity from Graham, who did not retire until age 75.
When Johnson returned to California, she began teaching. She was dance mistress at the Jazz Company’s Academy of the Arts in Rosamond. The academy’s director was Anthony Wortham, a young African American. At Wortham’s studio she taught classical ballet, jazz, and yoga.
Marcia has also worked with the notable Lula Washington.
“Lula Washington is a protégée of mine,” said Marcia, who said she did a television appearance with Washington at the Inner City Theatre in late 1970s. When Johnson’s students were ready for company work, she sent them over to Washington. Washington has performed several times in the Antelope Valley at the Palmdale Playhouse, and also at Lockheed’s Black History Month celebrations.
Most recently, Johnson was an administrator at Lancaster State Prison. In December 2010, she retired from the California State Department of Corrections after 10 years. “I enjoyed helping the inmates, motivating them,” Johnson said of her career in corrections.
“(I’ve) enjoyed giving a positive outlook on life to the inmates. I would speak positiveness to them and religion. Talking to them to better themselves, trying to steer them in the right direction.”
Now that Johnson is retired, she has no plans to slow down. In fact, the opposite is true. “I plan to move forward into my theater arts career, teaching children, what I’m doing now,” she said. “Now that I’m retired I will travel and (teach) classes all over.”
Johnson started teaching classical ballet at the new Antelope Valley Family YMCA in Lancaster, practically since the day it opened more than a year ago. Johnson worked previously at the ‘Y’ at the old location in in the 1990s. She heard about the new ‘Y’ and applied. Director Barbara Brodowski hired her. She sometimes subs as a yoga instructor. Johnson taught at the YWCA on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles back in the 1980s.
Eight students were in her ballet class one Saturday. Johnson could be seen gliding across the floor, vigilantly watching her students with a long plastic pole in hand. The pole is not for correcting unruly students. Johnson employs it by jabbing it on the floor to count time for the ballet positions. It is also used to make sure her students’ bodies are aligned properly when performing a plié or an arabesque.
She called 7-year-old Stephanie Campfield “my star performer.”
“She’s here every week,” said Johnson.
Emma Ghee, Abigail Sufford, Prince Elijah Muhammad (there are four Muhammad children in the class), and Adrianna Ascensio, are other students.
When she’s not taking classes or teaching at the ‘Y’, Johnson is teaching yoga at Monster Fitness in Lancaster.
Johnson is “very adamant about health and nutrition. I enforce nutrition in my classes. I encourage my students to eat correctly and drink lots of water, to eat fruits and vegetables and get plenty of exercise.”
Johnson also teaches yoga and meditation to men and women who are recovering from alcohol and drugs abuse, and is considering returning to school to become an alcohol and drug counselor.
Johnson reflected on her 58 years of dance and teaching and performance and education:
“I’m gonna be 65 this year. So my life is coming full circle,” she said.
After six decades, Marcia Owens Johnson is just getting started—again.
Bill Cosby, our funnyman turned jeremiad—our fire bell in the night—has lately been very quiet. No more bombshells dropped recently like saying the problem of the Black community gets out every weekday by 3 or 3:30 p.m., vulgarizing and disrespecting everything that moves. Currently, Cosby has been replaced by another renowned elder, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Does it disturb you that so many people hate you?” —Conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly to Barack Obama on a Feb. 6, 2011, during a White House interview.
LANCASTER, Calif.—An investigation was under way today into the "suspicious'' death of an inmate at Lancaster State Prison.
The death occurred some time Sunday at the prison at 44750 60th Street West, according to Deputy Lillian Peck of the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau.
The man was pronounced dead at the scene, Peck said. His name was withheld, pending notification of relatives.
October is International Bullying Month, and there seems to be a case about bullying on major and local television networks every week.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) will join the Keshet Chayim Dance Ensemble, the Agape International Choir, Grammy winner Macy Gray, pioneer female rapper MC Lyte, Israeli song sensation Haral Skaat and R&B singer Abraham McDonald for an evening of dance and music Sunday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater.