By Sara and Raymond, 8th grade | As a boy, Jermel Johnson loved to jump. He even set up low fencelike obstacles on his street so he could hurdle them.
“When I discovered there’s a lot of jumping in ballet, that’s what really got me excited,” said Mr. Johnson, who spent 19 years with the Philadelphia Ballet before retiring in May 2022. He rose through the ranks to become a principal dancer—one who has reached the highest status within a professional ballet company.
For Mr. Johnson, ballet is much more than jumps. “It brings me joy,” he said.
It has given him a way to express himself and connect with others. “I am not the best with words. It has definitely given me a voice through movement,” he said.
Dance also has helped him when he is not feeling great. “If I can just start a shoulder roll or start some sort of movement,” he said, it begins to “open me up and calm me down.”
He recalled how sad he was a number of years ago when his best friends were leaving the ballet company. At that time, he was performing a role in a ballet that was meaningful to him. Dancing it “actually made me feel better. Every time I did it, I felt a little better. I felt like I was more able to accept what was happening.”
Mr. Johnson also has had his share of physical struggles. “There are days when you are so drained and exhausted, you force yourself to get into it,” he said. “It can wear down your body so much that it affects you mentally.”
He grew curious about how to heal problems before they became serious. He also wanted to help others, he said.
So, as he approached retirement from the ballet, he studied to become a licensed massage therapist. This is a therapist who works on muscles, ligaments,
and other soft tissues in the body to reduce tension. Mr. Johnson has launched his second career as a massage therapist, and he finds his new job has similarities with his old one.
“I found my voice through movement, and the same carries over through massage,” he said. “I feel like when I’m massaging and really listening to the muscles of the person that I’m trying to heal, it is a dance.
“Both are very therapeutic for me.”
—Sara writes for the East Norriton Bulldog Bulletin and Raymond writes for the Enon Healthy Warrior