Age is no barrier to intrepid ballerina

Island resident Beverly Johnson, 77, photographed at her home on Mercer Island, has been active in ballet for 20 years. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Island resident Beverly Johnson, 77, photographed at her home on Mercer Island, has been active in ballet for 20 years.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

When they retire, some people take up golf, but not longtime Mercer Island resident Beverly Johnson; she decided to work on ballet and ice skating instead.

A few years after she moved to Mercer Island in 1964, Johnson, took up ballet on top of ice skating, jogging, swimming and painting. Now, at 77, she has stopped running but kept going with everything else, and this year she won a lifetime achievement award at the Dance Academy of Bellevue’s annual ballet recital and took home a first place medal from an ice skating competition.

“I just stand back and let her go,” said her husband of 46 years, David Johnson. “I guess I’m kind of amazed.”

Beverly, who used to work as an X-ray technician, said being active has always been an important part of her life, and she has found dance particularly inspiring.

“Moving to music is so beautiful,” she said. “I think it gets in your blood; it’s a passion.”

Beverly Johnson’s ballet teacher, Deena Dunning, said she was impressed at the strides Beverly has made since she started taking classes at Dunning’s Bellevue studio about 10 years ago.

“She’s the only one in the class who doesn’t ever stop the class,” said Dunning. “She just keeps going.”

Dunning said Beverly received an achievement award during the class recital in June because of her commitment to ballet and her enthusiasm.

“The whole audience went crazy when we announced her age,” said Dunning, recalling giving the award to Johnson. “On stage, she looks 35.”

Johnson said she had been taking classes from Pacific Northwest Ballet before she started going to Bellevue and working with Dunning.

“Deena was going to PNB and I met her there, and one day she said she’d branch off and make a class of her own,” said Johnson. “So I said OK, I’ll come with you.”

Under Dunning’s guidance, Johnson said she has made more progress with her ballet than she had with anyone else, and over the last few years she learned to dance in point shoes for the first time.

Johnson said she goes to the dance studio for class two or three times a week, usually for about two hours at a time. She said she has found that ballet is good exercise and a good way to express herself and meet other people.

“It’s a challenge and it’s a feeling of satisfaction, especially when you accomplish something you’ve been working at for a long time,” she said. “It’s a hard sport, but afterwards you feel better.”

Over time, she said, dancing has helped her and her classmates stay in shape, and the results are visible.

“There’s one lady who’s been going so long now she looks like a willow, just like a willow tree,” said Johnson. “It’s really lovely to see the effects.”

When people watch her perform, Johnson said, she hopes they enjoy the experience and realize that they, too, can take up dance if they want to.

Like ballet, Johnson said ice skating is another demanding sport that she loves, and she met her husband when they happened to be at the same skating rink in Seattle. She said when Dave first noticed her, he was at the rink with his friends, who wanted to leave, but he insisted on staying until she would let him skate with her.

When it comes to ballet and her other activities, Beverly Johnson said she has no intention of slowing down.

“I’ll keep doing it as long as I can stand up,” she said. “The main thing is to keep moving as long as you can.”

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