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
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."