Rush Johnston, (they/them)

(BFA ‘22, dance)

Artistic Director of Kaleid Dance Collective, Dancer, Choreographer, Dance Filmmaker

Rush Johnston (they/them) is a Brooklyn-based multimedia choreographer, performer, filmmaker, and movement researcher. Rush creates at the intersection of visual and performing art, often exploring modes of artistic expression beyond the binary. As a queer, Native, neurodiverse artist, their work often plays with perception and identity, inviting viewers to question proposed truths of self and social misunderstanding. Social justice work is a key element of Rush’s creative vision, often encompassing themes of political turmoil, queerness, and mental health.

Rush is the founder and artistic director of Kaleid Dance Collective, an interdisciplinary artistic platform for creative experiments and exhibitions.

Tell us about your journey to your current career path. What were the pivotal moments? What surprised you?

My journey to being a choreographer may seem clear cut. Afterall, I’ve been training in dance since I was three years old. However, it has not been a linear journey. I almost quit dance after high school due to the difficulties of the pre-professional ballet program I was training in, the eating disorder I was facing, and physical and mental strain of the dance world. In fact, Peabody was the only school I applied to as a dance major due to Danah visiting our school earlier that year and encouraging me to apply (plus my mom said I’d regret not having dance as an option.) Peabody offered me a chance to choreograph and share my own work, leading me to establish my own dance collective in 2021. Now I live in NYC and work professionally as a choreographer and artistic director. I’m so glad I continued doing what I love despite the obstacles.

What opportunities did you take advantage of in school that helped you to build helpful skills and experiences?

Cross-campus collaboration was by far my favorite opportunity at Peabody. I loved working with some of the world’s most talented musicians, creating interdisciplinary work, and sharing my choreography in a variety of settings. I worked together with computer musicians, jazz musicians, harpists, percussionists, and more, giving me invaluable experiences that I’ve carried with me into the professional world. I’ve even stayed connected with some of the amazing musicians I collaborated with and still work with them on my professional projects.

Who has been an influential mentor for you and why?

Matthew Cumbie was an artist in residence in the dance department during the pandemic. He started his process with us on zoom and then we were fortunate to be able to finish his work in person the following spring. During that time Matthew offered so much more than dance steps. He offered community, a place for us all to be ourselves in the rehearsal space. Matthew and I have stayed in touch since his residency in 2021, he was on the advisory board of my thesis project, and I am so lucky to say that he has become one of my closest mentors in my professional career offering me wisdom on grant writing, taking up space, and leaning into community among other things. I couldn’t be more grateful for his role in my life and artistic career.

What is an obstacle or challenge you’ve faced in your career journey, and how did you overcome it?

I had a mental health crisis my senior year of college that almost led to me not graduating on time or even following a career in the arts. I had to work especially hard and lean on my supportive community to get me through it and back into doing what I love. It was the scariest time of my life, but now it has led me to create numerous works about mental health and create a platform for destigmatizing mental illness by creating art about it. I hope that my experience can empower others to reach out for help when they need it and to speak up about the obstacles they’ve overcome.

Have your goals and priorities changed over time? If so, how?

Growing up I knew I was meant to be an artist, but I had no idea the path I would take. I wanted to be a ballerina starting at age 3, then a Rockette at age 7, then a professional modern dancer at age 15, and now finally I’ve become a professional choreographer, artistic director, and contemporary dancer. I’ve also expanded my journey beyond the traditional dance track, moving into multimedia endeavors including filmmaking, poetry, installation, and more. I’ve allowed my goals to ebb and flow with me always becoming more expansive and exciting, pushing me to grow. I’ve also started to incorporate myself into my work, making works about Indigeneity, queerness, disability, and other elements of my experience which I haven’t always been brave enough to do.

Hear more from Rush Johnston here in their Max Q podcast episode and Creative Wire Blog post!


Social Media

@rushj_dance, @kaleid_co