The Work of Art

Erik Johnson
Milwaukee Ballet Company Dancer

Erik Johnson’s chosen profession, Milwaukee Ballet Company dancer, means he must achieve artistic expression in a medium where he is seen but never heard. In other words, communicating with the audience takes a visual and technical perfection that only those who have true passion for their craft can achieve. Then again, as Erik learned very early on, without dedication—and the accompanying hard work—passion will only get you so far.


Erik tried ballet for the first time when he was a 10-year-old growing up in Marengo, Illinois. He was very close to his older brother and his younger sister, so when his sister wanted to start dancing, all three Johnsons signed up. After moving to Philadelphia when he was just 15 to attend The Rock School for Dance Education, he came home thinking he would take a more traditional, predictable career path. That didn’t last long. With a little persuasion from a friend, he started dancing again, and eventually his career moved him to Pittsburgh and then to Rochester, New York, and then to the Milwaukee Ballet in 2012.


As a professional ballet dancer, Erik’s day-to-day work is often repetitive. He spends lots of time perfecting each plié and fondu until the motions are almost instinctual. It can be challenging to stay checked in while he rehearses the same movements over and over, but this muscle memory is crucial, and he is reminded of its importance every time he’s on stage performing. “The reason I’ve done this day in and day out for years,” he explains, “is so my technique is such that when I get on stage, I can forget the minutiae and dance.”