One of Irish Step Dance's Best Dancers Is a Black High School Student
As parents and caregivers, we do what we can to ensure our children have the opportunity to chase all of their dreams. Yet, too often, our efforts are met with a limiting, and downright stereotypical set of options. Black children with interests that don't fit into a box are vulnerable to exclusion within, and outside of, Black communities
But the latest generation of Black youth refuse to pick interests and hobbies based on other limited imaginations. Imani Johnson, a 15-year-old who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, who has been doing—and dominating—Irish dance since the third grade, reminds us of this truth.
Johnson's dance story began in kindergarten as she'd watch her friends show off their Irish dance moves on the playground. She studied those moves and form through YouTube videos until her mother signed her up in third grade. From there, her natural talent was evident.
Since then, Johnson has won many titles, not only placing second in her age group at the U.S. nationals in 2021 but also winning in her age group in the Southern regionals both in 2018 and 2019, and countless local competitions. She's one of the best Irish dancers in the country. Still, adapting to being one of few Irish dancers of color was a process.
"I would want to see someone like me, so I could have someone to relate to," Johnson told NBC news. Fortunately, she isn't completely alone. Other Black Irish dancers like Kaitlyn Sardin, and Morgan Bullock—who was the first Black woman in Riverdance—remind all of us to chase our dreams, even those that have historically low Black representation.
"I'm a black female who've always been a fan of Irish dancing and I've never seen a black person doing Irish dance until I saw her video like a month ago on IG," said one commenter. "I thought it was pretty cool. I say that to say this, dance is a rhythm and music is a sound, it should never include color!"
The sentiment expands well past the dance community. Now more than ever, Blackrole models are visible in industries that previously lacked Black representation—namely swimming, lacrosse, skateboarding, and even esports. And they're not just participating, they are often competing at national and local levels and dominating.
Though it feels like many of us learned of Johnson overnight, it's crucial to note her accolades are the result of years of practice and dedication. "I missed out on a lot of things, like birthday parties or school events or field trips," Johnson told NBC. She describes how before high school "dance took over. It was basically the only thing I did, including school."
Black people have been showing up and showing our ability to complete and thrive in diverse contexts for a long time. The hard work and groundbreaking achievements of Johnson, and others, proves that Black participants should see no racial or ethnic restrictions when achieving their dreams.
We're one step closer to accepting that Black potential is limitless.