Photo by Erin Baiano

2019 Cover Model Search Finalist Darriel Johnakin

Click here to vote for Darriel.

There are a million and one ways to describe the versatile Darriel Johnakin, but "rare breed" is a good place to start. In fact, it's the first phrase Marie-Louise Gaschler, artistic director of Miami Dance Collective, uses to characterize her longtime student. "Darriel reminds me of how dancers used to train back in the day," Gaschler says. "She never misses a class, gives it her all, inspires the entire room, and somehow manages to stay humble and eager for corrections."


Darriel was a dancer from the beginning: Her mom enrolled her in dance classes at age 2 after noticing her natural musicality. "It was baby stuff, though," Darriel, now 19, remembers. "It wasn't until I was 10 that I got really into it. I switched studios and trained in every single style." She grew up a devoted comp kid, honing her craft at events like New York City Dance Alliance. At 12, she made a decision: "I realized that not pursuing a dance career wasn't an option. I had to dance," she says.

When college chatter began around junior year of high school, Darriel came to another realization. "Initially, I'd been set on heading right into the industry after graduation. But as I got older, I really felt like I needed more information, more experiences. I needed an education," she says. Thus began a jam-packed senior year that included auditioning for eight colleges, and participating in the YoungArts regional program—an experience she says was one of the two main highlights of her dance career so far. The other? Getting into Pace University's commercial dance program. When she walked into the NYC studio for the audition, Darriel knew right away she'd found her place. "The environment was so relaxed. I just sank into it," she says. "There was no pressure, no judgment."

Since moving to the Big Apple last fall, Darriel's thrown herself into collegiate life. "I've met so many amazing new people. I'd been around all the same people my whole life, so coming here and creating a whole new group of friends is so great," she says. When she has a rare spare moment between her academic and dance classes, Darriel dreams big. "There's so much I want to do, from the Radio City Christmas Spectacular to a Broadway show like King Kong to dancing with a company like Complexions Contemporary Ballet or Hubbard Street Dance Chicago," she says. "I'm open to anything and everything, as long as I'm dancing."

"One of Darriel's best qualities is that she's so hireable—the complete package that a choreographer or director would hope for in a dancer. Her energy in the studio truly is infectious." —Marie-Louise Gaschler, artistic director of Miami Dance Collective

Photo by Erin Baiano

Fast Facts

Birthday: March 3, 2000

Hometown: Miami, FL

Power move: "Love me a tilt!"

Hidden talent: "I'm fluent in Spanish."

Go-to stress reliever: Cookies and ice cream

Dance crushes: Jenn Freeman, Peter Chu, Al Blackstone, and Martha Nichols ("But there are so many more!")

Must-have dance bag item: Franklin massage balls

Advice for DS readers: "Stay open-minded about all styles of dance, because versatility is one of a dancer's greatest tools."

Latest Posts


Because you know you've always wondered... (Getty Images)

Sounding Off: Here's What Your Favorite Musicians Think of Dance Routines Set to Their Songs

In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Including this incredibly powerful piece by Travis Wall for "So You Think You Can Dance" (Adam Rose/FOX)

Here Are the 2020 Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Choreography

Our favorite season? Awards season, of course! Congratulations to the six choreographers who received Emmy nominations for their fabulous television work. This year, the Emmys thought outside the usual "So You Think You Can Dance" and "World of Dance" box, and we're delighted to see some of our fave choreographers getting recognition.

Here are all the works up for Emmys this year:

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search