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Omaha Magazine

A Body in Motion: Elkhorn Dance Teacher Domanic Brown's Kinetic Energy

Oct 01, 2021 01:23PM ● By Sean McCarthy
man dances in pink room

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Domanic Brown sits in a room, surrounded by dance bags, in the I AM Dance studio at 90th and Maple streets. As he takes a brief breather, a few cell phones chirp inside the bags. In about 20 minutes, Brown will take a group of students through what he calls one of the more low-key classes. For those who know Brown, the sight of him sitting still, even for a few moments, is rare. 

As a dancer, life is about motion and what you do with it. For Brown, it usually means 12-hour days of teaching dance at Omaha South High School, then teaching more classes at either I AM Dance or at Center Stage Dance in Elkhorn. And if being three places throughout the day isn’t difficult enough, Brown also owns Muse Beauty Bar salon. To keep everything in order, Brown typically has two calendars going, yet even that can’t prevent the occasional mistake. 

“There are times where I go to the wrong location,” Brown laughed. “It’s definitely a mental process trying to finagle every location.” 

Brown’s education in dance has primarily focused on real-world opportunities earned. At age 12, he performed on Broadway in New York. After graduating from Burke High School in 2010, he joined The Moving Co., University of Nebraska at Omaha’s modern dance group. Brown also made his way to New York for weeks at a time to audition and study with choreographers. 

Some of Brown’s friends who were dancers for Lady Gaga’s 2012-2013 Born This Way tour told him they were having open auditions. Brown’s talent earned him an understudy position on the massive tour. The position gave Brown the opportunity to work with other accomplished dancers and provided a behind-the-scenes look at how elaborate traveling stage shows were run. For weeks at a time, he lived out of a touring bus. 

The experience of touring on a large scale was as much an education of what Brown wanted in his career as what he didn’t. While it gave him access to some of the most renowned dancers in the industry, it also left him yearning for an emotional connection with an audience—something he was not getting by traveling from city to city. 

“It wasn’t my journey, per se,” Brown said of the tour. 

During occasional breaks from the tour, and shortly after, Brown took on every gig and audition he could. It led to him working with choreographers such as Richard Jackson (who has worked with Usher and Missy Elliott) and taking master-level classes with Emmy-winning choreographer Debbie Allen. 

After living in New York and Los Angeles and touring internationally, Brown felt a need to return home to be closer to family. He also saw a chance to elevate dance in Omaha. 

“Home to me is where my passions are,” Brown said. “And there [are] so many things that I can work on here.” 

Brown’s specialty has been in hip-hop and modern dance, for which he formed a love when he joined The Moving Co. “Modern dance allows the artist to express and talk through every detail, including standing still,” Brown said.  

Danielle Laurion, director of The Moving Co., said Brown was like a sponge when he joined in 2010, taking as many classes as he could. She said he soon became an integral part of the company, eventually becoming the public relations director. Brown’s energy radiates in both his dance and his choreography work, Laurion added. 

“He’s just amazing to watch perform,” she said. 

Jessica Johnson met Brown when she started dancing for The Moving Co. in 2011. She had a master’s in speech language pathology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but was moving her career in a more artistic direction. Brown and Johnson co-choreographed two pieces while at The Moving Co. 

“There’s an honesty in his art that you might not see in other people’s art,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen him do anything
that’s disingenuous.”

Like many others, Brown’s life slowed to a halt in early 2020 as the pandemic shut down studios and performances. From March through summer in 2020, Brown said he didn’t do much. It started to take a toll on him physically and mentally. That July, his mother, Susan Brown, died suddenly from a heart ailment. The loss of his mother and the connections that come from in-person performances put Brown in a depression. 

“I didn’t notice how much I relied on dance to process,” Brown said. “I was desperate to move.” 

So Brown improvised. He used the parking lot outside the I AM Dance studio to choreograph a piece in summer 2020. In addition, he taught online classes, but quickly saw the limits of that type of instruction, especially in trying to give individual feedback to a group of 20. 

“You feel like you’re just talking to the wind,” Brown said. 

This past winter, things began getting back to normal, not only for The Moving Co., but at South High School—where he co-directs the LaFuerza dance company—and Center Stage Dance, where he will start their new modern dance program in fall 2021. His remaining time goes to raising his 3-year-old son, Daxton. 

Brown’s long-term vision for Omaha’s dance community is to create a space for dancers after high school. Once students graduate from high school, opportunities to perform are limited and some are not realistically priced, Brown said. It’s a major opportunity gap that Brown hopes to fill in 2022. Creating such a space would allow a chance to reach out to young people who may not want to pursue dance on a professional level, but still have a love and appreciation for the art form that shouldn’t have to end at high school. 

Visit iamdancestudio.com or centerstagedanceelkhorn.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.