Sacramento, CA formerly of Lubbock - 37, passed away on Friday, May 7, 2021. Celebration of Life Service will be held Saturday, May 22, 2021, at 1 p.m. at New Hope Baptist Church. Interment will follow at the City of Lubbock Cemetery under the direction of Griffin Mortuary. Visitations will be held today from 4 to 6 p.m. at Griffin Mortuary. NaTalia Johnson is an internationally acclaimed prima ballerina from Lubbock, TX. Johnson was the artistic director of the Sacramento-based Natalia Johnson Conservatory of Ballet and taught kindergarten and 1st-grade students in Sacramento. She was born in Lubbock, Texas on November 20, 1983, to Mrs. Doris Jean Kelly-Johnson and the late Mr. Lenious Johnson, Sr. a former Negro League Team baseball player and business owner who was one of the City's first African American employees. Mrs. Johnson dedicated herself to caring for the couple's children and managing the family's household. When their youngest of four children NaTalia began talking and humming songs at 7 months old, Doris knew the next 18 years would be busy. At age 3, NaTalia's sister started taking her to watch her in dance classes at the then, Parkway Neighborhood Center off MLK in East Lubbock with John Packard. Packard noticed NaTalia could pick up the choreography and really wanted to dance. He made an exception and allowed her to enroll in his dance program at age 4 instead of age 6. Around that same time, NaTalia entered and won an area wide baby pageant with over 5,000 contestants. She went on to win Little Miss Lubbock, Little Miss Texas and too many national pageants, dancing, but mainly singing. NaTalia was a high honor roll student at Iles Gifted and Talented Elementary where she was class president, a winner in the American College of Musicians National Piano Playing Auditions and set a record in standing Long Jump. She then went on to J.T. Hutchison Jr. High honors school where she was on high honor roll, named most talented girl, a cheerleader, A Universal Cheerleaders Association All-Star Cheerleader, and was recognized by Duke University for being mathematically and verbally gifted. At Lubbock High School, NaTalia was a member of Western Union Dance Company, a Senorita, Outstanding Theater Arts Student, selected to the homecoming court and was class favorite. After graduating with honors in 2002, NaTalia received a scholarship to Juilliard School of the Arts in New York. While winning gold medals in gymnastics gold medals with Marilyn's Upside Downers tumbling team and winning national baton twirling awards, NaTalia was diagnosed with Scoliosis, a serious curvature of the spine. She was sentenced to 23 hours in a back brace. The one hour per day free NaTalia decided to focus on ballet- first with Suzanne Aker, and then professionally with Yvonne Racz-Key. As she prepared to attend Juilliard, a chance encounter with Dance Theatre of Harlem Founder and icon the late Author Mitchell propelled NaTalia into the national spotlight. Dance Theatre of Harlem needed rehearsal space. They chose Ballet Lubbock, where Mitchell saw NaTalia in class. He invited her to join his ballet company in New York. Going to college in New York at age 18 was much different than moving from Lubbock to New York on her own. Lenious and Doris said their baby could move to New York to dance, if she stayed with a group of nuns. A week later her sister Candida called with great news! The Sisters of Mary Immaculate at the Centro Maria boarding house on West 54th Street in Manhattan had agreed to take NaTalia in.
Six weeks after dancing with DTH, Debbie Allen visited the ballet company and cast NaTalia as Pearl in her stage play Pearl. She moved to Los Angeles and stayed with Ms. Allen and her husband former Laker Norm Nixon where she sang, danced, tumbled, and got rave reviews. During her illustrious dance career, NaTalia danced with Urban Ballet Theater, Ballet Noir, Ballet Lubbock, Renaissance Ballet, Collage Dance Collective, and was twice selected as an International Ballet All-Star. She studied at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and taught master classes throughout the county, including Harlem School of the Arts, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Daniel Catanach's Urban Ballet Theater, Henry Street Settlement, Abrons Arts Center, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, and taught and choreographed in the public school system in New York.NaTalia performed with notable entertainers including Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Lopez, Raven Symone, Todrick Hall, LeAnn Rimes, Tichina Arnold, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Eddie Money, Audra McDonald, Kyla Pratt, Rev. Al Green, performed for two U.S. presidents, at the White House, and entertained royalty -the King of Pop Michael Jackson and Prince. From PBS Specials at the Kennedy Center to a major network appearance in the lead role of Fairy Princess in the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, over the years NaTalia has graced numerous billboards, magazine covers, and did commercials for Dance Magazine, The Ballerina Project, Capezio, Dance Wear. Payless Shoes, MCI, Benetton, Sesame Street, Dillard's Department Store, and Kids Gap. After her last world tour with Dance Theatre of Harlem she began visiting Sacramento to mentor girls participating in the National Girl's Self-Esteem Program run by her sister. When NaTalia retired from professional dance, she relocated to Sacramento to help her sister- graduate over 800 girls from Their Girls Self-Esteem Program Academy, which teaches girls poise grace and dignity. In 2013 she opened The Natalia Johnson Conservatory of Ballet. NJC offers scholarships to children who have the heart for ballet, but not necessarily funds for classes. Along with her ballet school located in Sacramento's Historic Oak Park Community, she started the Sacramento Royalettes a Majorette, cheer, and baton team, Feats of Praise her Praise Dance Company, and created, staged and choreographed Juneteenth the Ballet. But NaTalia's baby was "The Nutcracker In Oak Park," which she choreographed based on one of her favorite ballets. The show draws sold-out audiences in Sacramento. But in all her accomplishments she never forgot her hometown, she travelled back to Lubbock to teach ballet and self-esteem classes, and was instrumental in opening the door to a collaboration between Ballet Lubbock and several underserved communities to provide free ballet lessons to students from in Lubbock, including the former Parkway Neighborhood center up the street from where she, her sisters Debbie, Candida, and beloved big brother Lenious Johnson Jr. and sister/niece Anastasia Knuckles grew up. NaTalia is loved by admirers from all over the world especially her nephews Dichali Williams, Anthony Wilson, Malik Wilson, and her beloved niece Maliah Williams. NaTalia danced through many obstacles, but our beloved Prima Ballerina NaTalia Johnson, always, stayed on pointe. NaTalia will lay in eternal rest near Lubbock's own beloved Mack Davis and Buddy Holly.
Published by Lubbock Avalanche-Journal from May 20 to May 21, 2021.