Dancer, McKnight fellow and artist: Herb Johnson

The University teaching specialist has moves on and off the dance floor.

Herb Johnson is a teaching specialist at the University of Minnesota and a regular competitor in local dance battles. Johnson currently teaches Urban & Street Dance Forms.

Will Tooke

Herb Johnson is a teaching specialist at the University of Minnesota and a regular competitor in local dance battles. Johnson currently teaches Urban & Street Dance Forms.

Maraya King

At the age of 13, Herb Johnson III began to take his dancing seriously after a classmate challenged the power of his moves. 

Johnson, now 25, is a graduate of the Perpich Center for the Arts and a teaching specialist at the University of Minnesota with knowledge and experience spanning various styles. 

“He [Johnson] makes everything relatable; he includes not only the physical characteristics, but the emotional characteristics in dancing,” said Shaun Lee Andler Pascual, a student of Johnson’s and president of student group UBreak.

 This weekend, he and Johnson will compete in the same battle — a challenge Andler Pascual says he looks forward to. 

Although he is still an amateur, Pascual said he uses the battles as checkpoints to see how he measures up with other competitors, like his instructor.

Hip Hop Movement (DNCE 1343) is taught by Johnson and Jason Noer, a current doctoral student who has been teaching in the dance department for five years. 

The two instructors will be the disciplinary heads of a new dance track coming to the University next fall. 

“We wrote the syllabi and proposals to teach several levels of hip hop and incorporate dance theory along with dance writing,” Noer said. 

Johnson is a particularly strong leader in the dance community, Noer said.

Johnson has been known to frequent dance battles — both underground and above — but says he spends a lot of time in sessions with his fellow dancers.

“A bunch of people get together and freestyle, have fun, chill, work on stuff, share energy,” Johnson said of the sessions. 

Krump —an energetic and expressive freestyle street dance— is his current favorite style of dance, but his expertise spans break, pop, house, lock and 90s party dancing.

Instructors Johnson and Noer find themselves competing in the same dance battles, but never as a team.

“That would probably be a bit unfair,” Noer added with a chuckle.

Last June, Johnson was one of three dancers awarded the McKnight grant. 

Most of the recipients pay off student loans, buy a new car or something along those lines with their winnings, Johnson said.

He decided to launch his own clothing line: 4MXST. 

Pronounced ‘foremost,’ 4MXST is a brand created “for anyone who moves in an athletic way,” he said. 

Johnson is still learning the process of being a designer, and although he wears many hats, he said he is a dancer first. 

When it comes to personal fitness, Johnson said his dancing keeps him in good shape … but he admits he is flawed. 

“I am really into baked goods, like oatmeal cookies. There are some nights I eat like 12 of those.”

Stars, they’re just like us!

Whether performing solo, with 40 of his friends or the group iLuminate, as seen on America’s Got Talent, Johnson said he brings everything he’s learned into the classroom. 

“As a dancer, you know your body will not move the way you want it to forever,” Johnson said, “and that is why I choose to teach, to pass it on so that even when I’m gone there is still the knowledge,” Johnson said. 

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Johnson’s title. He is a teaching specialist.