From the moment we saw Darriel Johnakin flash a million-watt smile while nailing a textbook tilt at her Cover Model Search photo shoot this spring, we knew she'd go far in the dance world. Now, having crossed "Dance Spirit Cover Model Search winner" off her bucket list, Darriel's back to doing what she does best: logging long hours in the studio, polishing her technique, applying her teachers' corrections, and trying to be a little bit better than she was yesterday.
Darriel brought this attitude with her to NYC. We were blown away by her humility, especially as we watched her shine in class at Broadway Dance Center. Her movements were seamless, her extensions and jumps jaw-dropping, her focus unparalleled. And as thousands of votes and social media shares poured in during the contest, it became clear that Darriel's work ethic was super-inspirational to her peers, as well.
Now a sophomore in Pace University's commercial dance program, Darriel caught us up on her whirlwind summer—and what's next.
What have you been up to since your trip to NYC?
In addition to officially finishing my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to perform at the Coretta Scott King Book Awards with fellow Pace commercial program dancers. I also had the chance to dance in a film choreographed by Martha Nichols, which premieres soon, so stay tuned! I was in NYC during New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, where I volunteered at the Pace recruitment booth during the college fair. I wrapped up my summer at Contemporary Now, an intensive created by the amazing Jenn Freeman, with Peter Chu on faculty.
What was your favorite part of the Cover Model Search?
I absolutely loved meeting the other finalists, experiencing a professional photo shoot, and meeting the super-fun Dance Spirit staff.
What was your voting campaign strategy?
Post, post, post! I posted on Instagram every day to remind people to vote. I also made pins, and it was fun to see people walking around town wearing them.
What are you looking forward to this year?
I'm so excited to be a sophomore and be with my Pace family! I really can't wait to see what new opportunities arise this year.
What advice do you have for future Cover Model Search finalists?
Just try to live in the moment, make tons of new friends, and always smile!
This has been an amazing opportunity and I can't thank you all enough. First, to the staff at Dance Spirit for selecting me as a Cover Model Search finalist: You all are really genuine and loving people. Second, to my partners in this journey, Emma and Diego: I'm hoping for a lifetime of friendship. Thanks to everyone who supported me by voting, sharing, and just getting the word out—my friends, my family, and strangers, too. Lastly, thanks to my mom, the No. 1 dance mom and cheerleader, for campaigning for me.
Love you guys,