The Story of 2X Dance International Champion – Lela Johnson

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Not many can say they are an international dance grand champion, but Lela Johnson, an Australian dancer from a small coastal town, has won the title of “International Champion” twice.

Her outstanding skill as a dancer has since won her many more accolades and even seen her scouted by renowned European choreographers.

Lela grew up in a small Australian coastal town one hour north of Sydney. She explains: “To the rest of the world, it would be in the middle of nowhere, but for those lucky enough to be a ‘Coastie’ as we like to call ourselves, it’s a secret best kept.”

Her love for dance began at only six years of age when she wanted to learn to tap dance. Her mother took her to a local dance school that offered multiple genres of dance. From then on, she was hooked.

At 10 years old, she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. It was then that she realized she dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. 

At age 15, she fully committed to pursuing her dream of dancing professionally and auditioned at an Elite Dance Studio where she met her mentor.

She was first discovered by Jason Winters (So You Think You Can Dance, Cirque De Soleil, American Dance Awards) when she was cast against hundreds of potential auditionees in his contemporary piece in the Dance Editorial Production, Love is Love, as his Protege Dancer. 

Jason was thrilled to find such a formidable talent exhibiting such technique and movement quality at such a young age.

Lela performed in Sydney and up the east coast of Australia with this production, impressing audiences and cementing her place in the performing arts industry.

She went on to be cast as a Lead Dancer in Arterial with CIRCfest Australia. Using a fusion of both circus and dance as a medium for First Nations storytelling, this production, in conjunction with the international circus center Tohu in Montreal graced the stages of Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney and gave international acclaim to the art of storytelling through dance.

Lela was cast for her skill and interpretation of movement and her ability to communicate through the art of dance.

Lela made a point to align the choreography with the narrative, which developed a trust that would carry its meaning.

Lela then turned her attention to a more upbeat production when she was cast as the Lead Dancer in the hit Australian musical The Sunshine Club. Lela was cast as a new generation of talent for this revival production.

Set post-war, the story reminds us that resilience, truth, and a better life are to be found in music and laughter.

Lela was cast as a homegrown Australian talent that led this toe-tapping musical into the ballroom of The Sunshine Club to dance.

Touring the nation, Lela was choreographed into the performance inspired by her versatility to take on the 1950s boathouse style of dance and create a feel-good performance to wow audiences across the country.

By this time, Lela was a household name in the performing arts industry.

Lela then went on to secure her rightful place as Australia’s best by taking out two National and two International Dance Titles in consecutive years, which has never been accomplished before.

The Dancelife Australian Dance Awards 2019 was the converted national title for dancers around the country.

Lela beat out over 25,000 dancers over 12 months and won over numerous international judging panels to be awarded Grand National Champion Soloist 2019 with her lyrical solo performance “In Case You Don’t Live Forever” choreographed by her mentor and renowned choreographer Natalie Baker.

Lela was presented with a full scholarship to train at the Broadway Dance Centre in NY.

Lela continued to challenge herself and worked with international trainers and choreographers to masterly transition and perfect different genres of dance.

To name a few, Shannon Atkins (Broadway Dance Centre NY), Marinda Davis (Marinspired NY & LA), Shannon Mather (Mather Dance Co., LA & World of Dance Choreographer), Krista Miller (The Space TV, LA), and Jason Winters (So You Think You Can Dance, Cirque De Soleil, American Dance Awards).

Lela’s understanding of being elite in numerous styles and being able to draw on them for any performance requirement has allowed her to pave her path to success.

She backed up her first national title with a second one the following year. Showcase Australian National Titles 2020 covered over 28,000 entrants from both Australia and New Zealand.

The tour traveled to 48 regional and state centers looking for Australia’s top Dancer. Lela made it to the top 50 and competed in the finals in Queensland.

The top 50 was cut to the top 10, then the top 5, and finally, the top 2 who performed at the Nationals Gala. Lela was crowned Dancer of the Year 2020, taking out the title.

Lela was then sent to the Asian World Titles in Bangkok, Thailand, as Australia’s top Dancer. Her versatility served her well with six extraordinary solo routines in Broadway Jazz, Lyrical, and Contemporary.

Her representation of her country was formidable; she drew from her creative strategy of reading the audience and performing to the purpose.

She successfully launched the Australian dance industry into the spotlight and took out the title of International Champion Soloist.

From here, Lela was offered international training opportunities with Marinspired Storytellers in New York under the direction of Marinda Davis and was the first Australian to be offered a converted spot with Mather Dance Company LA as a bridge member under the Artistic Directorship of Shannon Mather, a World of Dance USA Choreographic winner. 

She then went on to the World Dance Movement Titles 2022 in Italy, securing her second international title. Lela competed against dancers from the USA, Europe, and South Africa. Lela had become such a renowned dancer that her performances were viewed by all.

Her journey through the ranks offered invaluable insight into the realm of contemporary dance that encapsulated fellow dancers, judges, and audience engagement.

Her talent paved the way for pure genius content in all her routines, executed perfectly, taking them all toward a new horizon of appreciation.

Lela was awarded the ultimate title of Senior World Champion Soloist in Contemporary Dance. 

While in Europe, she was scouted by renowned Italian choreographer Diego Orengo, who cast her as a Two70 Lead Dancer in his professional production “The Silk Road”, which is being toured by Royal Caribbean International.

This production takes the audience on a journey down the old trade road and encompasses pieces in many genres, including Bollywood, jazz, circus, lyrical, and contemporary.

Lela’s versatility and expertise in all genres made her the obvious choice for this role. Lela has been on tour with this production for the last 10 months throughout Asia.

Throughout her career, Lela’s determination to become a professional dancer never wavered, but she did have her fair share of challenges.

Due to her rigorous training, she developed a stress fracture in her wrist, which required surgery.

Furthermore, just before Nationals, her ankle started giving her trouble. Despite that, she pushed through and managed to win the National title—only later succumbing to another stress fracture in her ankle and further surgery.

What has helped keep Lela going throughout the years is a combination of work ethic and determination. She explains: “Work ethic, determination, and drive are the pathways to success.

Believe in yourself and have confidence in your abilities. Know your worth. Forge your own path; do things your way”.

Despite already accomplishing a lot in her career, Lela has no plans to slow down. She plans to dance in shows across the world and eventually start her own dance company to bring the joy of dance to others.

Lela Johnson has become one of the best dancers in the world, winning two National Titles and two International Grand Championships. Today, she continues to perform in international productions and has become a sought-after talent in the industry.

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