When Joy Johnson moved to Owensboro over 40 years ago, there was no second-guessing what she wanted to do with her life. She had opened a school of dance in Indianapolis after graduating from Indiana University and getting married. Two years later, when her husband, an Owensboro native, was ready to move back home, Johnson brought her dream with her. When she decided to open a studio in her new hometown, she wasn’t sure how well it would go.
“People told me that I was new in town and couldn’t just open a business,” Johnson said. “They suggested that I work for someone else first, but my husband was all for it so I decided I was going to go for it.”
Working for someone else was not part of Johnson’s plans. In fact, her passion for teaching is what led her to establish her own studio instead of pursuing a professional dance career after majoring in modern dance. Even as a young girl, she remembers feeling a passion for the world of dance instruction.
“I had always loved my teacher growing up. I helped her out in the summers,” Johnson said. “I always drifted towards teaching, never really performing. I loved dance, I loved kids and I didn’t really want to work for someone else.”
In 1977, Joy Johnson opened Johnson’s Dance Studio (JDS), an establishment housing tap, jazz, ballet, modern dance and gymnastics. Johnson had been a gymnast for a while at IU so offering a variety of classes utilizing her expertise made sense for her. Kim Johnson, one of Joy’s first students was 12 years old when she started instruction at JDS. Her story is one of the first success stories that Joy got to experience.
“Kim went on to dance at Giordano School of Dance and danced professionally in Chicago and Denver,” Joy said. “Kim came back to Owensboro, got married and has taught with us ever since.”
Over the past four decades, several students went on to dance professionally, instructed in private schools, and taught in studios around the country. One JDS dancer became a journalist with a dance specialty in the New York area. According to Joy, many are teaching wherever they go. Even with all of this success, the most celebrated successes come from giving back to the community.
Karen Carothers helped Johnson establish 501c3 non-profit status for the dance company as a totally separate entity from JDS. The Owensboro Dance Theatre (ODT) created a board of directors to help raise money alongside the community.
By going nonprofit, ODT has created several community outreach programs such as free school performances, special needs programs and dance scholarships. In addition, two teachers in the Owensboro Public Schools, Shauna Dever and Ashley Ayer provide dance instruction, and a teacher at Daviess County High School, Natalie Woodard started a dance class last school year.
“We have a business advisory board that is run by the board of directors,” Joy said. “Through going nonprofit we were able to establish the Parkinson’s Program and the Special Needs Dance Therapy Program, both of which are incredible outreaches.”
Another program that Joy is proud to support is L.E.A.N, which focuses on Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude and Nutrition and implements tools developed by Dr. William Sears. She believes in teaching the art of dance while providing the tools needed to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
While 42 years in business is quite an accomplishment, Joy focuses on the simple things when she counts her successes. After all these years, her passion is still fueled by teaching. Not only does she count the many years of experience she has brought dance instruction to Owensboro, she celebrates the dancers who carry on the legacy.
“Teaching is by far my favorite. I’ve cut down on teaching a little bit lately,” Johnson said. “I’ve got some younger teachers now, which is great; most of them are former students.”