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MILLERSBURG -- When Holley Johnson was an aspiring ballerina studying dance at the University of Utah, she never thought she would wind up teaching dance and serving as executive director of the Holmes Center for the Arts in Millersburg.
As she told the West Holmes Board of Education during a recent presentation about the Holmes Center for the Arts, "I would much rather dance for you than talk to you," Johnson said.
But, as she saw the opportunity to expand her teaching to more than just dance, she felt the time was right.
"I never planned to run a school," she said. "I was just teaching. I started out with a 3- and 4-year-old class nine years ago (in Holmes County). There wasn't really a ballet class in this area, so I thought I'd teach a class. My sons took the class, and it was something fun for us to do together.
"A class would end and people would want me to keep on teaching, and it just grew," she added.
She taught for eight years at the Berlin Resort but felt a call to something bigger.
"I was having so much fun with this, and I wanted these kids to have a better opportunity than I had as a kid," she said. "So that's how this got started."
Prior to coming to Holmes County, she was dancing for the Lexington Ballet in Kentucky.
While dancing there, she was the office manager of the School of the Lexington Ballet, where she also helped with marketing, seeking corporate sponsors and applying for grants.
She was a natural to head up the Holmes Center for the Arts. She has been instrumental in raising and applying for more than $50,000 in sponsorships and $28,000 in grants for the arts in Holmes County over the past year and a half. However, it wasn't Johnson's interest in dance that brought her and her family to Ohio. "That was my husband's idea. He was from Rittman originally, and he wanted to live closer to one set of grandparents, and his parents are retiring in Millersburg," Johnson said. "We fell in love with the little church in Winesburg, and we wanted to live close to our church, so that's how we wound up here."
Her husband, Matt, is a structural engineer with Palmer Engineering. They have two sons, Gus and Phinehas, and a daughter, Lydia.
Johnson's friend and fellow dance instructor Kristin Talarico of New Philadelphia said there was never a doubt in her mind that the Holmes Center for the Arts would be a successful endeavor.
"Holley is such a creative genius, her passion for dance is amazing, Talarico said. "Her skills are amazing, and her choreography, I'm floored. I can watch it again and again. I bring my daughter here (from New Philadelphia) because I think she has one of the best ballet programs around."
Talarico said it is no surprise that they were able to pull off hosting a full-length production of "The Nutcracker" this past winter with Johnson serving as the artistic director.
I knew it would happen, because I know Holley. She's one of those Type A artists, who when she puts her mind to something, she does it," Talarico said.
Johnson has a Bachelor's of Fine Arts with a performance emphasis from the University of Utah.
After college, she danced with the Atlanta Ballet, and the Lexington Ballet.
She was head of the ballet program at Fara Tyree School of Dance in Winchester, Ky., for three years.
"If this were just my dream, it wouldn't be as great as it is, and can become," she said. "When I hear their dreams and what the aspirations are of these kids here, and what they hope to achieve, it motivates me even more to make it happen for them. It's also our board of directors and their passions.
"I love teaching. I always have," she continued. "I enjoy seeing that growth from the kids. When they start out and then once they've been dancing for a few years, they see all these things they didn't think their bodies can do."
Johnson said God has opened a lot of doors to make the arts center happen these last two years. "I'm not sure how else to explain it," she said. "And I am thankful for each and every person that has been a part of making it happen."
She recalled her first phone call to current board president Cheryl Shaver.
"I know that I nervously called Cheryl Shaver, not knowing anything about her except that she owned the East Holmes Vet Clinic with her husband," Johnson said. "Someone told me that she had a daughter that had danced and she'd be a good, wise person to 'recruit' for a board member.
"Over the phone, I asked if she would be interested in meeting with a group of people who were talking about an arts center and I expected her to laugh in my ear, but she was really excited," she continued. "I couldn't believe it. "I found another one of our board members, David Ernst, by reading an article in one of the papers about how he had organized a cartoon drawing expert to come to Jitters. I thought, 'Oh ... maybe he'd be interested in this.' It's been really strange how all of this came together and so quickly."
The Holmes Center for the Arts is in search of a new home and the board is presently working to raise funds for that goal. For more information about the Holmes Center for the Arts and its programs, check out the website: www.holmescenterforthearts.org.
Reporter Kevin Lynch can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.