Suffolk dancer attends Ailey School

Published 12:03 am Saturday, August 18, 2018

A rising seventh-grader at John Yeates Middle School has found increasing success as a competitive dancer, and he recently developed those skills further alongside other young dancers at New York City’s Ailey School.

Mekhi Johnson, 11, arrived at the Joan Weill Center for Dance in New York City on June 24 for a five-week summer intensive program led by Ailey School faculty. Approximately 3,500 students in the Professional and Junior Divisions are trained annually at the official school of the internationally renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, according to the dance company’s website.

Mekhi was able to attend the program through a full scholarship from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with additional expenses covered by the Suffolk Art League’s Sharon and Chip Picot Student Scholarship, according to Suffolk Art League Executive Director Linda Bunch.


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The Suffolk dancer had his work cut out for him, with 40-hour weeks from morning to night, but Mekhi said it was worth all the soreness and sweat.

“It was really intense, but it was really fun, too,” Mekhi said. He also made friends with dancers his age from Baltimore, Texas and even Canada. “There were a lot of them,” he said.

He and his fellow dancers spent those long days practicing with a view of 55th Street through floor-to-ceiling window glass.

“It could get very distracting at some points,” he said.

The five-week program culminated in riveting “Summer Sizzler” performances by the students on the evenings of July 25 and 26. Mekhi, a Junior performer in the A-level, thrilled in group performances with a range of soundtracks. The “Tanne Fecc” routine featured traditional West African music while “Finesse” played Cardi B and Bruno Mars.

Mekhi was the only one in his class that danced in the closing show’s invitational performance that deeply impressed his grandparents, Robert and Bernice Harris, and his mother, Tiffany Johnson.

“I don’t really cry when I watch him perform, but I did when I watched him in New York City,” his mother said, with his grandparents crying just as much.

Mekhi admitted that he was surprised that he was selected for this special performance to close out the program, but his mother was not.

“He’s phenomenal and he really makes it look easy,” Johnson said. She did say that she was a bit nervous for him when they arrived in New York City. “But when I saw the closing show, I was just blown away. He has no obstacles with getting on the stage and doing what he does very well.”

He said he’s been dancing since he was a 5-year-old who practiced routines with his older sister Kennedy, 13, while his twin brother, Meleek, preferred T-ball. He will go into his eighth year as a student of RPM Dance on Bridge Road this fall.

“They really built the foundation for Mekhi and have been supportive of everything that he’s done or will do,” Johnson said about the RPM Dance staff.

According to a scholarship reference letter written by RPM Dance owner Renee Perry Mitchell, Mekhi is a model student and has emerged in the last five years as both a featured soloist and a consistent competition winner in the tri-state area.

“Mekhi is passionate in his pursuit of excellence and is willing to learn and grow throughout the process,” Mitchell wrote. “He takes on new challenges, enjoys working with his peers, and is comfortable in the spotlight as well as serving in the studio environment.”

Mekhi said his three favorite dance styles are contemporary, tap and jazz. He flexed his contemporary muscles when he danced to the beat of a piano and audio narration taken from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech for a tribute during the 2016-2017 dance season.

For tap-dance numbers, he gets to enjoy a pair of clacking tap shoes, a sound that the 11-year-old enjoys very much.

“I don’t really use them in the house as much,” Mekhi said about his pair of tap-dancing shoes.

“No, he does not use them in my house at all,” Johnson said in earnest.

His passion for funk likely came from his grandfather Robert Harris, Johnson said, who gave Mekhi his first collection of greatest hits from Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop” himself. One of his solo dance performances during the 2015-2016 dance season was to the song “Man in the Mirror.”

“I think my dad has a history of doing that for all of his (family),” Johnson said about the Jackson fandom. “He did it for me and then he did it for my kids.”

Mekhi’s time at the Ailey School was a dream come true for the young performer. He said he hopes to one day become a renowned performer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. For him, dancing is nerve-wracking until you’re on stage with the music.

When he performed on stage in New York City, he felt like a “Smooth Criminal.”

“I really felt good to be there. I felt confident,” he said.