For Cheshire High School junior Tula Johnson, dancing is a special opportunity to inspire other people and tell stories without her needing to say a word. While she always gets nervous before performing, Johnson feels that it is just a sign that the activity matters to her.
“When I get on stage or in front of a camera, I feel that everything goes black and I get so happy to show what I can do,”explained Johnson.
Since deciding at age 15 that she wants to pursue dancing as a career, Johnson has poured her heart and soul into following her passion. She balances attending classes at CHS and working out in three dance studios. She is represented by the talent agency McDonald/Selznick Associates (MSA).
“I’ve gotten used to my schedule, but due to COVID canceling a lot of stuff, I dance every day. If I’m not dancing, I’m at the gym or hanging out by myself,” stated Johnson. “For me, the hard work is worth it. If you want do something for your life, you push through things.”
Johnson trains three or four times a week at Ballet Theatre Company in West Hartford. For R&B, hip hop, and contemporary styles, she works out at The Lab – A Creative Space for the Arts in Meriden.
“When I realized that dancing would be my career, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to perform as long as I can,” said Johnson. “A dancer’s body usually shuts down when you are in your late 20s or early 30s.”
Through The Lab, she has appeared in concert videos. Johnson also recently had the chance to dance in Episode 5 of a WTNH television show, “That Life.” The program showcases local and national hip-hop artists, dancers, and community influencers, among others.
“It is a modernized version of ‘Soul Train,’” stated Johnson.
For the taping, she went with two of her friends to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford. Along with dancing in a group, Johnson also got to do a solo performance.
Dancer Brandon Couloute reached out to her about the TV spot that is scheduled to air on March 6.
“He has been in videos with artists like Ariana Grande, so to work with him is amazing,” Johnson said.
On weekends, Johnson also travels to New York City to work with a professional dance organization called Nitrogen The Company. After auditioning last August, she joined the group in October.
“I’ve gotten the chance to do concept videos there,” stated Johnson. “It is hard to find good training in Connecticut, so I had to expand my teaching and technique.”
Johnson loves all styles of dance, but she has made a name for herself in hip hop and contemporary forms.
“Every dancer has their own style,” said Johnson. “Instead of listening to the lyrics in a song, I listen to the beats in the background. I feel that it fits my body better that way, and doing contemporary allows me that opportunity. I also love hip hop, too.”
At age 6, Johnson started dancing at a local ballet studio in New Haven.
“My mom put me into it because she was a dancer,” recalled Johnson. “Over the years, I’ve found that dance helps me through difficult times, like in school. I feel free whenever I perform.”
After focusing on ballet, she branched into more styles and danced competitively.
“When it comes to competition, many studios don’t focus on ballet,” said Johnson. “I started to work more on other styles like jazz, tap, and contemporary.”
She looked into entering contests on the suggestion of Cheshire friend Lia Raffone.
“She told me about all the amazing things involved in competitions like wearing fun costumes and traveling, but I didn’t realize how much work goes into it,” reflected Johnson. “Depending on how many events you do, it costs between $10,000 to $30,000 a year.”
While choosing to give up the competitive side of dancing, she made an exception for the opportunity to catch the eye of a talent agency like MSA. As a freshman at CHS, she signed up for an improv contest where dancers were able to compete individually or as a group.
“I won and got to compete in a solo against another girl,” recalled Johnson. “The agency saw potential in me.”
In attending another competition, she won the title and received the MSA Award. In signing with the agency, Johnson feels that she earned an amazing opportunity.
“It is great to get advice from the agents,” stated Johnson. “I hope to inspire others through this big company.”
Johnson loves being able to teach and share her passion with other dancers at places like The Lab – A Creative Space for the Arts.
“When I was learning choreography, I had so much trouble picking it up. I thought that I would never get the steps or be discovered by a teacher,” reflected Johnson. “When I teach, I tell my students that you are dancing for yourself, or to grow as a performer. A lot of people change what they do for other people and I feel that you don’t have to do that to stand out.”
During the pandemic, Johnson has used social media sites like Instagram to share her dancing.
“Hopefully, when COVID dials down, my agency career can skyrocket,” said Johnson.
In the future, she would love to work on Broadway or get hired to perform with artists like Jennifer Lopez.
“I’d like to move to New York or Los Angeles to pursue my dance career, but my first goal is to go to college,” said Johnson.
While dancing is her first love, Johnson has also taken voice lessons with New Haven Academy of Performing Arts Coach Stephani Buonocore since September of 2019.
She is appreciative of her family’s support in all of her activities. Johnson’s father is a creative writer and English professor, while her mother is a pastor at Canton Community Baptist Church and works as a professor at Southern Connecticut State University.
“They sacrifice so much time so that I can dance,” stated Johnson. “My brother, Kiran, also comes to watch me perform and continues to be so supportive.”