Meet Chris Johnson from Supershag, one of the top dance studios in Massachusetts. Chris initiated the concept of Pro-Am Dancing at the Blackpool Dance Festival in 2005.
Speaking Of Blackpool 2005...
Could you please share with us what the ProAm event that you ran at Blackpool this year was called?
The Blackpool Pro/Am Classic It was run in conjunction with the United Kingdom Alliance of Dance Teachers.
Since Blackpool Pro/Am Classic was the first event that you have ever organized for Blackpool, along with the first ProAm event to have ever taken place at Blackpool, what are your comments on the event itself?
Well, we had 23 couples so it would have been nicer to have more people there. However, the quality of the winners was extremely high and it was a really great chance for the ProAms to dance at night in Blackpool. The competition was actually part of the United Kingdom Alliance Annual Dinner. There were about 800 people in the Entrance Ballroom, so it was actually held there with 800 people dressed up in black-tie watching the Pro/Ams.
The nice thing for me was that if you have never been to Blackpool, when certain events come on, like the Senior, everybody usually gets up and goes to the bar, but nobody actually left for the Pro/Am event, so I think it was actually a nice experience for the dancers.
What inspired you to run events at Blackpool? What are some of the rewards and challenges involved with coordinating these events?
Trying to get dancers to enter on the Internet was challenging. Most people have a hard time filling out an entry form on the net and then checking their emails to find out what was going on. The other thing for me was that I really believe in Pro/Am dancing because it has really given me a living, it has offered a living to a lot of dancers who even if they donít win Blackpool it has done a lot for them.
So, when I was at Blackpool last year, I was asked to do a lecture for the UKA and I didnít realize that they held their Congress in the actual Entrance Ballroom. Now when I walked in there and saw the place I thought that since everybody in England has been talking about that they are going to do Pro/Am, why donít we just do it. So, I presented the idea and was told, ďFine letís do it!Ē and I said, ďGreat, weíll do it next year.Ē Thatís what happened. Then everybody else tries to jump on it, but nobody else has managed to do that yet, so I am quite happy about that.
What did you enjoy most about Blackpool this year? Will the Blackpool ProAm Classic be taking place again next year?
Coming home. We also ran a trip for our students, so for three days I did a shuttle service from Manchester airport to Blackpool picking people up at 7am in the morning. You know, when you go to Blackpool, you donít go to bed until 2 or 3am, and then having to wake up at 7am to go to the airport doesnít give you much sleep. We also coordinated all of the dancing people, and the UKA were running the dinner themselves, so we had a few difficulties getting things settled out, people at the right tables, and such, so at the moment, I really donít want to do it again. Now, thatís just how I feel now, but weíll see what happens.
Which dancers stood out most on the dance floor this year? Were there any surprises?
Brian Watson was so professional compared with everyone else. I thought he was above everyone else this year. Heís been there for a long time and a lot of people think itís time for somebody else to take over, but from when I watched the comp he was just a class of his own. He stood out as a dancer for me. I thought the Ballroom Standard competition was all around unbelievable because the Italians really rose to the occasion this year and nearly won, so that was interesting.
After having judged at the United States Ballroom Competition, what do you look for most in a dancer as they perform?
I like to know whoís the girl and whoís the guy. Sometimes couples get mixed up in the role they should be playing.
Do you have any advice for up and coming Amateur or Professional dancers and their partners?
No. You either have it or you donít. If you have it, nobody needs to give you any advice on your performance.
When and where were you born?
I was born in Banbridge, 25 miles south of Belfast in Northern Ireland. As a kid I played soccer. My brother and sister, who were twins were dancing all the time, since they were six and I was ten, and although I wasnít interested in dancing, I would get dragged around to their dances for about six months saying ďIím not going to do this.Ē Until one of the kids I played soccer with had a sister who needed a dance partner, so it was funny having a ten year old boy come up to me - at ten years old as well - asking me to dance with his sister. So, thatís when I started. It was awful because my brother kicked my butt every time I danced against him, which was not a nice experience. His name was Jeremy and he is currently a Professional back in Northern Ireland.
What is your favourite style of dance?
I like watching Smooth and Standard, even though I donít do it.
What was the transition like for you when moving from Amateur to Pro?
It was very easy because I didnít have a job and needed to make some money. Supershag also tried to help people, at the moment we have helped sponsor a couple that was English #1 Amateur couple, Evgeni Smagin & Rachel Heron. This year we helped sponsor the American Amateur Team with their accommodation at the Celtic Classic in Ireland. When I danced, I had a full time job, because as an Amateur in England we werenít allowed to teach, yet I was dancing with all the Germans and Scandinavians who had their own studios and, it was difficult. I had to really work to pay to dance, so it was nice when I started to get paid for it.
Do you have any role models?
Sam Sodano is a huge role model for what he achieves in this country. I also think that John Kimmins, the way that he has promoted American dancing abroad has done an incredible job. Eddie Ares, not only with dancing and his students, but he has set up a new global network. Those are three people I really respect. From a dancing point of view, Diana McDonald is the most unbelievable teacher and person that I have ever danced with.
What was one of your most memorable and rewarding dance experiences to date?
In 1987, in Bulgaria. I was dancing with a lady called Nicky Nordin. She actually judged at Blackpool for the first time this year, which was rather nice. But, anyway, Michael Jackson had just brought out his ďBadĒ Album and there had been a concert in West Berlin the night before we danced the comp and there had been a riot in East Berlin with kids trying to get near the wall to hear the music. So, the week after, on the Friday night, the competition became televised, we won the competition and they asked us to do another dance. So, I went to the producer of the TV program and asked if he had a problem if I used this particular music, and he thought it was fantastic.
So, there were 24,000 to 25, 000 people in the stadium and as soon as the first bar of Michael Jacksonís ďBadĒ song played and we started doing the Cha Cha, everybody stood up and started clapping. Thatís what it felt like to be a pop star. We even needed a police escort to get us out of the building because people wanted autographs and stuff, so that was nice.
FUN FACTS ABOUT CHRIS JOHNSTON
Do you have any other interests or activities outside of dance? I was ranked in the top ten in tennis at fourteen years old, but now itís just work, work, work. I donít have time to do anything, but I enjoy working, so thatís pretty good.
What is your Favourite Food? Steak, cooked anyway, as long as it used to breathe, I will eat.
What is your dream car? I drive it. I have a Porsche 911 Convertible. If you work all the time, you can actually afford to have one.
Favourite time of day? Definitely night time.
Favourite Quote? I suppose itís to just do it! Stop talking about it and just do it!
Favourite place to visit? Miami, Florida.
Do you have any pet peeves? People who talk too much and donít do anything.
If you could only have one of your senses, which would it be Ė taste, touch, smell, sound, sight? Why? Sight. I am a very visual person, so couldnít imagine what it would be like to not see anything.
SUPERSHAG MEGA DANCE COMPLEX
Along with coordinating events at Blackpool for dancers, you have also been successful in the business world. Could you please share with your DanceScape fans what it has been like building your dance studio ďSuperShagĒ over the past years?
Well, what happened is that I used to own a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Boston. So, I woke up one morning when I was 28 and realized there is absolutely no future for me in competitive dancing and that was after being a huge champion at Blackpool. I was an English number 2 for three years, and a Final at Blackpool. I just, unfortunately didnít see that there was any light at the end of the tunnel for me and the fact that you go to Blackpool every year and just try to make the 40th or even the 12th doesnít pay the bills at the end of the year. So, I got an invitation to come to the States to work for Fred Astaireís and was amazed at the business side of dancing. So, I bought one of their studios and grew the organization a little bit. For instance, at one point we had the World Youth Latin Champion working for us, we had the Australian Professional Ballroom Champion and a kid in the semi-final at Blackpool, so we had a lot of really good dancers under us and Fred Astaire preferred that we didnít go out into the open circuit, so in the end, I moved on and taught by myself for a couple of years out of a studio in my home.
In 2001, I was approached by some people who were interested in getting a studio together since nothing had really been going on in Boston for the past ten years, so this is when I became a part of starting up SuperShag. For the past three and a half years, all we have done is work, work, work. Itís been about getting out there seven days a week and doing different things. We started originally focusing on ProAm, but now we are entering the collegiate world as official Ballroom and Latin coaches for Brown University and the official Latin coach for Harvard University. In addition to that, we have a production company. We organize parties for weddings, charity events, and we work with a really good live Swing band in Boston. So, at events we DJ, teach the dance, have the light music, the demonstrations. Basically, the night never ends.
Our studio has been designed to look like a night club, so every Friday night we hold a party that is very successful. As well, for the last seven years I have been running a mixed dance night in Cambridge, every Saturday evening, where you can dance, Salsa, Cha Cha, Swing, Merengue, Waltz all in the same place and itís in a proper club with a bar, restaurant and normal people actually attend this event. A couple of years ago, we were voted best of Boston, by Boston Pub Magazine.
What inspired you to create the name SuperShag?
We have been criticized about our name and have also been told it is the most unbelievable piece of marketing people have ever seen. We like to have fun, and there is a lot attached to the name.
Our staff is unbelievable and I am extremely lucky for that. The lady that runs the whole study is Rachel Whitney who dances Professional Smooth. We actually coached her from the restaurant, then she left the dance business for awhile and then entered the restaurant business and then once again came back into dancing and came to work with us. We were lucky that happened. Tibor Kerekes is the acceptable face of SuperShag, he gets all the social stuff going and basically I sit in the background doing all the fighting when something goes wrong. So, the staff are great and the professionals that teach there are a really talented bunch.
What are some things that you have learned from running a dance business?
You only make money if you actually do work. Itís as simple as that. We have made our pricing as competitive as possible. You canít just sit around thinking a couple classes for kids will make you rich off it.
What is your vision with SuperShag in the future?
Next year we are planning to open our second studio in Sin City because we thought it would be rather interesting having a SuperShag there, as well we are trying to open a bigger studio in downtown Boston. Itís basically finding the time for getting out and doing that. Thereís a lot on the future.
SuperShag has also started a new venture to video comps for the organizers and put together a DVD for the organizers, so if they want to use it for promotional purposes they can, or they can keep it as a nice souvenir of the competition. In the future, paper brochures are going to cease to exist, so everything will be done online, with CD-ROMS, etc. So, we are focusing on letting people know what is going on, through these mediums.
Have you been watching ABCís television series ďDancing With The StarsĒ?
I saw three performances last night so far.
Do you have any comments to share with us about the show and how it will affect business?
Itís absolutely brilliant for dancing. It makes me laugh that all these people on the forums criticizing everybody because this is about entertainment, nothing about quality dancing. I actually danced on Come Dancing, which was the program in England that started all this. Then they started Strictly Come Dancing, which everybody loved watching in England. At the end of the day, the showís not about dancing, it is just about entertainment. With all of the dancing in movies going on at the moment, dancing is at last prominent in the media and this can only be good for the business.