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Johnson-Mills jazzes up dance instruction at MACC

The spring semester for VanCura Ballet Conservancy’s outreach program at Mountain Arts Community Center has just begun, and students can join classes at any point with prorated fees.

Offerings for boys and girls held Thursdays through May include Creative Movement for ages 3-4, which covers basic concepts such as stretching and coordination from 4-4:30 p.m. Pre-Ballet, from 4:40-5:25 p.m., for ages 5-6 further develops concepts from Creative Movement, and Ballet I, VBC’s first level of classical ballet training, is from 5:30-6:15 p.m. Jazz and Contemporary for those age 9 and up is held from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

“I feel like it builds confidence and it just helps you out,” said instructor Brittany Johnson-Mills, who first got into dance through Ballet Tennessee’s Dance Alive program, a free two-week program for kids ages 8-12 in the Chattanooga area.

Participants must audition for Dance Alive every year, and starting at age 10 Johnson-Mills tried out and made it into the program for the next three years.

“I fell in love with dance,” she said. “It was a way to express myself through music, and I enjoyed the competitive aspect of it.”

She said she found it difficult starting later than most of the other students, many of whom had been taking lessons since age 3 or 4. But feeling behind and being in a position of maturity just made her work harder.

“After that first year I caught up with the girls my age,” said Johnson-Mills.

Now 23, she has been studying with VanCura Ballet Conservancy for the 13 years since her first summer in Dance Alive.

“It’s definitely opened a lot of doors for me,” she said of Dance Alive.

She attended an eight-week summer workshop on full scholarship at the Ailey School in New York City, where she studied all types of dance, predominantly modern.

“I wanted to experience modern,” said Johnson-Mills, whose training through VBC had given her the strong background she needed in ballet and pointe. “I think it’s better to be exposed to all different types of things.”

She started assisting with classes as a junior in high school and started teaching her own classes at age 19. She is now one of four full-time staffers at VanCura Ballet Conservancy.

“I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” said Johnson-Mills. “I like being able to see the progression and know that I helped.”

While she said she wants her classes to be enjoyable, she also expects her students to take what they are learning seriously.

“When you’re able to step on stage, that’s the fun part,” said Johnson-Mills. “In a classroom setting we actually learn; we want our students to progress.”

Students will have the opportunity to perform at a recital held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at the conclusion of the semester in May.

Johnson-Mills’ own first performance was at UTC.

“It’s like the feeling of being nervous and excited at the same time,” she said of the thrill of performing.

Tuition for the 16-week semester is $144 per class.

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