My name is Babatunji William Johnson, but everyone calls me Tunji. I was born in Portland, Oregon on January 30, 1991 but grew up on The Big Island of Hawaii.
In 2007, at the age of 16, I started dancing after watching and being inspired by the documentary Rize (which is about a new style of Hip-Hop called Krumping). Since there were no teachers, I taught myself by watching YouTube. After starting a Hip-Hop crew with my friend Grady, I got hooked on dancing and began teaching myself how to pop as well as break dance. In a year, I started teaching at Center Stage Dance Studio in Downtown Hilo. Here, I was introduced to and made to take Ballet, Modern, Contemporary and a little Irish step dance by my employer and mentor Pier Sircelo. At the time I really didn’t want to because I didn’t view it as the most “manly” thing to do, but I am so grateful she made me. After training there for almost three years, my teacher encouraged me to get more professional training. She said that I should go to LINES, who I got to see preform at UH Hilo. I applied for the BFA program at Dominican University, but for financial reasons, was unable to go. However, I was referred to the LINES Ballet Training Program, which I was told did not offer any kind of certificate but was an intensive two-year program designed to get the trainees up and ready for the real world and professional careers. I saw it was best for me, so I got in touch with the Director Karah Abiog, was admitted, and I was on my way.
Once in the program, I was surprised about the environment. I expected what I saw on TV, which was a bunch of snobs and prissy girls and boys that would smile in your face, but when you turn your back, just as easily step on you to get ahead. From day one, what I was met with was nothing short of a family. I really get along well with all of my peers, and the Training Program is really good at mixing fun with work, as well as opening the floor for individuality. I also like that this program does not really fall into a repetitive state. You are always learning new works whether it is from one of your teachers, one of your fellow students, or one of the many guest choreographers that they bring onboard. This was also the first time I was ever introduced to Gyrotonic, which has really taught me how to use my body in the most effective and safe way.
Being at this program feels like being a part of one big family. I feel that I have a personal relationship with each of my teachers and administrators and I could come and talk to them at any time about things that are going on in my life or even ask for advice. When the teachers are teaching class you never feel as if they don’t want to be there. It seems like they enjoy working with and helping all of the students excel, and the administrators are all very professional and have set rules, but they also will work with you to accommodate any individual student’s special needs or conflict, which makes for a very effective and flexible working environment.
Awhile before entering the program, I had decided that I was going to audition for So You Think You Can Dance; I had already fallen in love with contemporary and thought that if I mixed it with my break dancing, I would come up with a new style that no one has seen before. Coming into the program, I hoped to gain strong technical kills in the areas of ballet and contemporary, as well as the ability to pick up choreography quickly on my own. I have only been in the Training Program for a semester and a half and since then I have gained everything that I have set out for and so much more.
Surprisingly, the most important thing that I have gained from this program, I had no idea existed before I came here. I had never heard of it being taught anywhere else but here, it is called “Artistry”. There is a heavy emphasis that every teacher in the program puts on Artistry and learning this aspect of dance taught me that there was so much more to dance than just getting choreography and preforming it and moving onto the next. The Training Program taught me how to investigate what I am doing and why I am doing it, turning what used to be just moving out of habit or because I learned it that way into really thoughtful and investigative work. Through learning these methods, I discovered new ways to move and how to really enjoy what I am doing, how to captivate and move the audience. If I had to put it into one sentence, “This program takes dancers and turns them into more than just dancers, but scholars of the art.”
I enjoy living here in San Francisco. The people here have a lot of what we call back home “Aloha,” which means positive vibrations or energy. There are a lot of activities to do and sights to see on my down time, when I am not dancing, so I never get bored.