When Farley Johansson was a little tyke he would get bored hanging around during his older sister’s dance classes.
He’d get himself into trouble by doing things like climbing into dryers, so at the age of three they added ballet to his soccer and hockey activities.
One day his father saw an audition notice for the Royal City Youth Ballet Company’s production of The Nutcracker. When he went to register, a woman came running down the line and grabbed Johansson by the collar. His appearance had apparently caused quite a stir amongst the ballet’s organizers.
“In dance guys are often few and far between,” says Johansson.
It was the start of a lengthy relationship with RCYB and with New Westminster’s Kirkwood Dance Academy, which he has parlayed into a successful dance career not only in Canada but in New Zealand, Australia and Europe with a Brazilian flavour. This week, he’ll be performing his own work at Dances for a Small Stage 29 in Vancouver.
From 1993 to 1998, Johansson would go to school in the morning and train with Kirkwood every afternoon.
“It’s such a good vehicle for dancers to gain experience,” says the 34-year-old Burnaby resident of his RCYB and Kirkwood Academy days.
Instructor Li Ya Ming showed Johansson how to work with a partner and how to lift her.
“He was a tremendous impact on my dance career because I trained with him for five years through a formative time,” says Johansson.
He had returned to Canada from New Zealand, where he’d moved with his mother after his parents split, to live with his father who worked for the Surrey parks department. The home environment was testosterone-driven, with plenty of chainsaws and pickup trucks. His high school, Tamanawis in Surrey, had lots of violence and tension. But he’d cross the bridge to New West to a totally different world where he would strap on tights and jump around with a bunch of girls in leotards.
“Even at the time I was able to step back and look at the balance I had in my life,” says Johansson.
After high school he studied at the New Zealand School of Dance. One year during the New Zealand dance festival, Johansson was assigned to be a gopher for a Brazilian company specializing in Capoeira, a martial arts-influenced style with lots of percussion.
“I was just totally humbled watching these little Brazilian guys whirling around the stage. I’d never seen such strength and flexibility,” says Johansson. “It’s an amazing form, and it translates very well to contemporary dance.”
He went to Brazil four times to learn about it, and has incorporated it into his choreography and taken it all over the world. After New Zealand, he was based in Germany for four years, but he and his wife, dancer Shannon Moreno, decided to return to their roots to raise a family. In amongst bringing up Mattias, 2, and three-month-old Edward, they run a dance company called Science Friction.
Just like his dad at that age, Mattias is hyper. “We’ve got to run this boy hard otherwise he doesn’t nap,” says Johansson as his son bugs him during the interview. The plan is to put the boys in all sorts of activities such as music, dance and sports and let them choose what they want to do.
“I was encouraged and supported with dance but never forced into it. It was always up to me. We’ll see what they’re into. Matty has good hand-eye coordination, he’s surprisingly good with a hockey stick.”
Maybe in a few years he’ll be auditioning for The Nutcracker, too.
• Johansson will perform a five to seven minute dance as part of Dances for a Small Stage 29. It runs Thursday through Saturday at the Ukrainian Centre on East 10th Avenue at Main Street in Vancouver. Tickets are $20 and available at small-stage.eventbrite.ca or at the door. Info: www.movent.ca.