Students and faculty remember Dance Professor Jonathan "Johnny" Charles Smith
Students, faculty remember dance professor Johnny Charles
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 02:02
The Sam Houston State University is mourning the loss of Assistant Professor of Dance Jonathan “Johnny” Charles Smith who has been teaching for 20 years. Smith died Feb. 14 of short term illness. SHSU is holding a memorial performance beginning at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in the University Theatre Center’s Erica Starr Theatre.
The memorial performance will include students performing dances Smith choreographed.
Dance, Theatre and Musical Theatre students and professors met in the Dance Theatre of the Performing Arts Center after finding out about Smith’’s death. They told stories of the “charismatic man” and cried over his loss. Students also broke out into Smiths jazz dance class warm-up according to assistant professor of dance, Dana Nicolay.
Students and professors met again on Friday to tell more stories.
“I remember last semester in ballet class we got him on a story tangent... He basically told us his life story, but one part stuck out to me. He told us he became a special service performer,” junior dance major Alexandria Hess said. “He traveled with troops and performed all over the world. I also remember him saying one time they were on a balcony on base somewhere, and saw the sky light up with bombs and thought it was cool... And then an officer came out and asked them what the hell they were doing out when they saw bombs that close!”
Smith made his dances as crazy, or “fabulous” as possible according to junior dance major Adornina Nguyen.
“During the summer, when I was doing Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston with him and he wanted me and two other girls to be dressed as mermaids. He got us these wheel chairs so that the boys could push us around and then these diving flippers so they could be our tails,” Nguyen said. “He spray painted them pink so they could match out costumes that he made just for us and had a bunch of glitter, because he loved glitter. He was so proud of the dance with the costumes because he found it hilarious and with his usual saying and his famous wink, he said; ‘You ladies just look fabulous in those dresses and fin.’”
Dana Nicolay was touched in many ways by Smith.
“Jonathan was my first dance hero,” Dana Nicolay. “The very first dance lesson I took when I was 22 I joined this small company in Kansas and we went up to the Kansas Dance Festival and Johnny was already a member of the Kansas City Ballet and I saw him on stage. It was beautiful it was just beautiful. He very much inspired me.”
Students and faculty talked about how Smith was such a character and an overall great guy.
“He was a really big character and was super fabulous. He would walk into a room and everybody’s mood would change and it would just be like ‘the day is saved Johnny is here he can fix it.’...” sophomore dance major Marina Miller said. “He always had a way of uplifting people even if he was really rude to you, you wouldn’t really be offended by it. You would still be like, well that kind of hurt my feelings but I am going to try hard anyways.”
Dana Nicolay and adjunct lecturer Betty Nicolay said that Smith was a caring person.
“Johnny was a really generous person you know as far as anyone needing anything he was the first person to be there for them to help them out,” Betty Nicolay said.
According do Dana Nicolay, Smith would even come to the school for students at any hour.
“If a student needed to get in the building at midnight, Johnny was up,” Dana Nicolay said. “If you needed something and he had it, it was yours.”
Betty Nicolay said Smith volunteered his time to better the students.
“Johnny, every summer we had no dance classes in the summer here in the building, Johnny volunteered his time at least twice a week he would come up here after the kids got off work… about 5:30 or 6 class would happen a couple of times a week,” Betty Nicolay said. “Just out of generosity and his spirit, because he was worried the kids weren’t going to have any other way to keep in shape.”
Students and faculty can’t see the Dance Department being the same without Smith.
“It’s just going to be weird without him because he really brought together the Program,” Miller said.
Dana Nicolay said that Smith’s death hit the dance department hard.
“It changes everything around here, it’s like 9/11. There has just never been a hit like this that we have taken in the dance area or even the theatre area as far as I can tell,” Dana Nicolay said. “I mean there have been important changes but to just have a spirit like that removed so abruptly and finally and sadly. It’s really tough.”
Dana Nicolay is still in denial over Smith’s death, but believs that Smith’s spirit lives on.