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About Ryan

Baltimore County

Ryan Johnson's picture
I am Ryan K Johnson, an artist and living archive that translates and synthesizes global rhythms to the human body to bridge and educate communities. Specifically, I use my artistic methodologies and creative practices to inform communities on Black contributions to American vernacular and percussive dance forms. My practice of investigating percussive dance rituals of the African diaspora in America and their influences upon generations of embodied storytelling is at the core of my identity. As an... more

Zaz The Big Easy

SOLE Defined's electric performers embark on a spiritual journey through percussive dance. Comprised of intimate, first-person testimonies, told from a small speakeasy in New Orleans, this percussive dance performance uses storytelling, digital projection, song, and brass music to explore the events of Hurrican Katrina. This immersive evening-length adventure takes audiences on a high-energy roller coaster that takes you from the depths of environmental tragedy to the heights of community triumphs and celebration. 

Written & Directed By Ryan K Johson 

Choreography By Ryan K Johnson & Quynn Johnson Musical Score By Tamar Greene
  • SOLE Defined Mini-Doc

    The creation of Zaz The Big Easy
  • We're Here To Stay

    We're Here To Stay, A rhythmic and vocal response to the new of Hurican Katrina off of the shore of New Orleans.
  • Zaz The Club

    Welcome to Zaz, We are introduced to the locals who will take us on this rhytmic journey. Zaz is a small speakeasy in New Orleans where locals enjoy life and preserver through the storm.
  • Oya Elements

    The eye of the storm has arrived, which is represented by the strength and power of a black woman performing a West African solo, ending with the audience sitting in darkness to symbolize the widespread power outages.
  • I’ve Been Through The Storm

    This modern/contemporary infused solo starts with search lights of a Blackhawk surveying New Orleans East for survivors, expressing the emotions of being stranded and physiological effects of surviving a horrific storm.
  • Grandma/Pop Pop

    A rhythmic exploration of vocal percussion using the words Grandma, Pop-Pop, Sister, Brother, Mother, Father, and Friends. This symbolizes those who were searching for their loved ones after the storm hit.
  • Intermission

    Hot off the press news articles about the destruction of the storm.
  • The CleanUp

    This section of the show symbolizes the spirit of NOLA, the strength of the community and the efforts to restore the community.
  • The Grand ReOpening

    After years of rebuilding Zaz finally reopens.



The Golden Age of Hip Hop was a defining moment that continues to leave an indelible mark on our culture, identity, and way of life today! VIBEZ takes us back to the roots of hip-hop, where it began as an innovative sound, a form of social protest, Afrocentric expression, and a celebration of life. SOLE Defined's magnetic performers take viewers on a journey back in time with a live DJ spinning the sounds of the 90s and their toe-tapping blend of styles tuning any venue into one big party. VIBEZ premiered at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and is being performed across the United States.
Photo Credit: Craig Foster 

  • SOLE Defined VIBEZ at The John F Kennedy Center

    SOLE Defined workshops their brand new show title VIBEZ. An innovative, ground-breaking sound where music was used as social protest, Afrocentric expression, and a celebration of life. Artistic Director, Ryan Johnson leads SOLE Defined as they take us on a journey back in time to The Golden Age of Hip Hop, fusing a live DJ, Tap Dance and Stepping.
  • No Music!

    No Music is inspired by grade school rap cyphers which used the table, pencils and pens to create the beat.
  • No Music!

    No Music Photo #3
  • No Music!

    No Music photo #2
  • SOLE Stroll

    Creating an immersive experience, we teach the audience a series of steps then invite a few guests on stage to perform for their friends to Queen Latifah's U.N.I.T.Y.
  • Imagine That!

    If I Ruled the World, a message to us all to continue to dream big.

The Heartbeat

Percussive Dance is the perfect blend of music, movement and emotions. In hopes to expand the exposure of the art form, I started working on a solo album consisting of seven global rhythm tracks performed by my body. 
The Heartbeat was written to address a common question I received after performances; “where do all your rhythms come from?”.  The short answer to that question is my heart, it's a part of my DNA and spiritual makeup. Percussive Dance is my way to express emotion, address social injustice direct affecting people of color, and create a safe space for transparent conversation between people of different backgrounds. 
I was approached by Moxie, a marketing firm for BB&T bank in December 2017, expressing interest in The Heartbeat and Body Percussion for an upcoming campaign.  I agreed to choreography, perform and use The Heartbeat for the 2018 BB&T Zelle campaign. 

Art Education

I use percussive dance as a tool to educate, connecting Body Percussion with Math and dances of the African Diaspora to help assist in the social and emotional development of students. I teach workshops and residencies to promote collaborations, fitness, and the importance of self-expression. The effects of my art education programing is more than a rubric analysis. It's my way of investing in generations of young people and providing real-life examples to the possibilities of the world. 

  • History & Movement

    In residencies, we cover movement and history to ensure the students are educated dancers learning more than technique.
  • Why do you dance?

    This is an exercise where students write a response to the question, "Why do you dance." Then we take the response papers, connect to percussive dance steps, and create individual solo performances.
  • StepMath

    Students learn basic movements of steeping such types of claps. Those moments are then connected to a number and/or an order of operation. The students are then paired into groups receiving a handout with sum totals that the students have to create their own equations to reach the said total. Once this is complete, their equations become choreography.
  • Post Workshop Photo at NOCCA

    This photo was taken at the end of a one week residency connecting contemporary movement with percussive dance.

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