A baby sitter took Garth Johnson to her daughter’s dance class years ago, and he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“I just remember getting in the car and being like, ‘I have to go back. Take me back please,’ ” said Johnson, who was about 6 years old at the time.
Now 21 and a senior at The Juilliard School in New York City, the Hebron native will perform as part of Fall for Dance, a 12-day festival based in New York featuring the best dancers in the world.
Johnson will appear with fellow Juilliard dancers on Sept. 29 and 30 as part of “Fortune,” a dance set to live contemporary music and featuring movement motifs based in classical ballet. Choreographed by 2011 Guggenheim Fellow Pam Tanowitz, the dance premiered at Juilliard’s “New Dances; Edition 2011” and was selected to become a part of the festival.
Johnson described it as an avant-garde sort of piece with the dancers dressed in bright colors in front of a green screen, “very visual and bright on the eyes.”
The dance is set to violin, cello, piano and clarinet music performed by Juilliard musicians.
“I would say it’s a very technical work in which all of the dancers are really utilized and showcasing their strengths and technique,” he said.
Involved in other dance shows throughout his education, Johnson said this is his highest honor to date. In its ninth year and beginning Sept. 27, the festival features 20 dance companies doing hula, ballet, flamenco, tap and more in a diverse lineup.
“It’s really big,” Johnson said. “It’s a festival in which companies from around the world perform. ... We’re the only students on the program. Usually it’s only about professional companies. It’s a very professional setting. It’s very rare that the stage gets to be shared with students.”
The honor is the culmination of Johnson’s many years of training, beginning with that first dance class he visited years ago.
He took classes at the Dance Factory in Delavan, Wis., before commuting daily from Hebron to the Chicago Academy for the Arts High School, where he graduated in 2009.
Johnson also was a part of the nonprofit Extensions Dance Company in Chicago.
His senior year of high school, he auditioned for Juilliard and was accepted.
His success along the way has been well-deserved, said his parents, Greg Johnson and Lois Hoveke of Hebron.
“I think he’s worked really hard to get where he is,” Hoveke said. “He’s amazing. I’m extremely proud of him. ... It was pretty much all he did, work his whole life to get there.”
The family has another talent to be proud of as well. Johnson’s younger brother, Ian Johnson, a yo-yo artist, appeared last year on Season 6 of America’s Got Talent. Age 16 at the time, he made it to the Vegas round before being eliminated in the Quarterfinals of the reality television show. He will compete Oct. 6 in the 2012 National Yo-Yo Contest.
Meanwhile, Garth Johnson is looking forward to college graduation. He said he hopes to pursue professional dancing as part of a company in Europe or elsewhere. He’d like to choreograph, as well.
Dancing always has been his passion. He said he favors contemporary dancing and improvisation.
“I enjoy the creative aspect of it and being able to move and express things in movement,” he said. “I just enjoyed it so much that even if some things didn’t come naturally, I just worked on it so hard because I loved doing it.”