Promotional photo for And iDanced with Shane Johnson

By Brenda Alexander

In a time where music videos with coinciding choreography that you mimic in front of your bedroom mirror are almost nonexistent, most hip dances are learned via Youtube and Instagram. With the exception of Beyonce’s core background dancers, the days where artists have a signature ensemble of dancers employed are long gone. I grew up in the 90s where dancers were a vital part of a performance or video. Dancers, at one point, were the main attraction, more so than the artist. Those dancers weren’t known by name but they were recognized by their faces and their moves. Many were associated with the artists they worked with. Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson all had some of the greatest dancers and choreography in its prime. There was one dancer at the center of it all during that time: Shane Johnson.

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Shane Johnson

A dancer from the Bronx with a mixture of self-training and lessons with the Amas Repertory Theatre in Harlem, Shane was discovered during the climax of hip hop’s inception. Hip Hop was just breaking into the music video world when Shane took note of a dancer in a Kid-N-Play video who bore striking resemblance to her and thought to herself “I can do that.” A few days later, she ran into the group at a local hot spot in NYC and had enough nerve to tell them the same. She soon found herself on the set of their second music video that sparked a career as a principal background dancer throughout the next decade plus, performing alongside Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson (just to name a few).

Now, in a new documentary she co-produced with Christopher “Play” Martin titled “And iDanced,” Play and Shane are putting names to faces of the dancers of that era. The film shares dancers’ journey to the stage, how they helped shape some of the most iconic videos and tours during that time and where they are today. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Shane during a stop on her promotional tour for the film in Philadelphia. Audience members were treated to an exclusive sneak peek of the documentary and a moderated panel with Shane and Play. In my conversation with Shane, she touched on her experiences as a dancer, shared inside scoop into life on tour, gave her thoughts on where dance is today and explains why she decided to finally put a name to her face (and many others).

BA: You got your first break in a video with Kid-N-Play, take us through your journey from there.
SJ: I ended up doing three videos with Kid-N-Play and from there, I was hired by a rapper named Sweet Tee, who was in their entourage. I went on tour with her and she was my real first job as a dancer. While I was on tour with her, we did a show with Slick Rick and one of his dancers asked me to join them. They were paying a lot more than Sweet Tee at the time so I started dancing with him. At one of the shows with Slick Rick, Bobby Brown came up to me after the show and said, “Oh my God, I want you to do Soul Train with me.” Little did I know it was the Soul Train Music Awards. That was my first big break and Bobby kept me and the other dancers. I formed a group with three of the other dancers called MECCA and it went from there.

BA: How did you end up touring with Whitney?
SJ: We danced with Bobby for about 5 years and really became a family. I could have danced with other artists but I preferred to stay with the same team. Of course, he married Whitney and that’s how we were introduced. There’s actually mention of how we became her dancers on her special “A Concert for South Africa,” (watch at the 4:43 mark) she literally stole us from Bobby. While we were touring with Bobby, she was working on her album. His tour stopped, she needed dancers and we jumped from touring with him to her “I Will Always Love You Tour,” which was her biggest tour. That took it to another level.

Shane, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown

BA: What was that experience like?
SJ: I was with Whitney for 7 years and it was the best experience. We were treated like royalty. We stayed at The Ritz Carlton, whenever we traveled she arranged excursions for us and even had our own rooms and tour buses when we traveled. I had never made that type of money prior. My meal per diem was equivalent to what I was making weekly as a dancer for Slick Rick, that’s how much we were paid. I got the chance to see the world. Nothing compares to my time with Whitney and there were fun times with Bobby too.


BA: How was life dancing at the time?
SJ: It was great. A lot of people don’t know that we didn’t have a choreographer and we created the dances ourselves. We rehearsed in our hotel rooms and in lobby’s. With Whitney, at one point our group MECCA was signed to her label and management as artists. Unfortunately, things started going downhill for her as everyone knows so we never did anything as artists.

MECCA with Whitney Houston during the “I Will Always Love You” Tour

BA: Did you decide to pursue singing full-time or did you opt for something else?
SJ: No. Once things started going downhill with Whitney, I had to think about what was next. I already danced with Bobby, Whitney and I did Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video in between. Having performed for the best, I wasn’t interested in settling for anything less. By that time, dancers weren’t being used in the way as before. Video vixens started to break into the scene and we weren’t interested in being part of that so we hung up our dance shoes. I put two pieces of paper in my hand, one said singing and the other said acting, I said a prayer and opened the paper that said acting so I moved to LA to do so.


BA: How did acting work for you? Did you ever think of life outside of entertainment.
SJ: I still wanted to stay in the arts. I did some commercials and TV shows but it wasn’t really my passion. I did some hosting but I recently found my passion with producing and work as a Producer and writer for Bobbcat Films in Atlanta. Moving to Atlanta was the best decision I ever made and only did so because I was supposed to get married. I moved to Atlanta and my relationship fell through within the first week but I believe that was a vessel to get me here and find my next calling. With the And iDanced project, this has been such a passion project of mine because it’s bringing the two worlds of production and dance together. With Bobbcat Films, I am also the Executive Producer of a new music and video show with Revolt that I am excited about.

BA: I’m glad you mentioned that because I feel like there’s a huge void now with music videos dying and dancers aren’t being included as much. Do you hope to change that with your show?
SJ: It’s interesting because the good thing is that with the digital world, dancers can market themselves like never before. But there aren’t many artists outside of the Chris Brown, Beyonce and Bruno Mars type that really use dancers anymore so their options in that sense are limited. I am hopeful. One of the reasons I did And iDanced was to show the world how important dancers are. The dances that Beyonce and Chris Brown are doing, my era is responsible for.

Promotional photo for And iDanced

BA: Tell us how we can support And iDanced and what are your dreams for the film?

SJ: We are promoting during Radio One’s Be Expo and all of the stops and promo we are doing can be found online and on our social media pages. Thankfully, we also have a few offers on the table and are in talks now for distribution. My goal was to show the world who we were, what contribution we made to the industry and to give us credit lol. I also hope it inspires the new wave of artists to include dancers more. I think dancers being as immersed in the culture as it was when I was in the game is making its comeback.
Do you have any favorite dancers and will you see this documentary? 

Brenda is a Philadelphia native with a love for Marketing, Creative writing, wine and Jesus. Her work has been featured on Mayvenn’s Real Beautiful blog and she is the co-author of the book Christmas 364: Be Merry and Bright Beyond Christmas Night (available for purchase on amazon). Follow her on IG @trulybrenda_ and trulybrenda.wordpress.com

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