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From Penn Station to Penn State: Tap-Dancing Josh Johnson Hopes to Perform with Jay-Z

In three minutes, Josh Johnson makes an announcement to his audience, puts on his tap shoes, performs, collects money, and changes back into street shoes between stops — and only the passengers in that specific car would know he was actually a street performer.

“I start with something that you can relate with: a beat or a groove where you can nod your head,” said Johnson, a 22-year-old senior from Harlem, describing his usual routine when he taps on subway trains back home. “Then I hit you with technical steps. That’s more about the visual. Then I go back to the groove, which is the audio”

Over the past four years, Josh has paid for his Penn State education by doing what he knows best: tap dancing. He knew that if he could come up with around $100 each day of the weekend as a street performer in New York City, he could keep affording school, but what started as a means to get by led Josh to gain a lot of attention by NYC locals, tourists, and luckily for him, the media.

Josh Johnson

Josh started tapping nine years ago when his school required taking an arts program in order to graduate. For the next few years, he became increasingly enamored with the art of tap dancing and street performing.    

“I just gravitated towards [tap dancing] really easily,” he said. “It just came natural to me.”

When Josh started attending Penn State, he became aware that affording the cost of college living was not going to be easy. He concluded that his talent would be what it takes to attain a higher education. It was at this time that Josh began taking the Megabus home to raise money.

“I was almost living two lives. While everybody would be tailgating the football games on the weekends, I would be working on the train tap dancing.”

Because tap dancing isn’t very popular in Harlem, Josh originally didn’t want anybody to know about his passion, even when a Daily News reporter asked if he could write a story. It wasn’t until Josh was approached by the New York Times in March of 2012 for a full page story when the domino effect of success was set in motion.

Since the story was published, Josh has made appearances on ABC News with Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and  even The Ellen Degeneres Show, where he became a recurring guest and a red carpet reporter at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards. More recently, Josh performed on Dancing With the Stars and at two Penn State basketball games, as well as a halftime show at a sold out Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. He even became the commencement speaker at University of the Free State in South Africa.


“Right now, instead of going back home for street performing, I’m at a point where I do shows every other weekend,” Josh said.

Josh will tap dance on stage at THON 2014, but his next big goal is to perform on stage with Jay-Z when he comes to the Bryce Jordan Center on January 31. This past week, he has been self-marketing by going to classes in the Forum and Thomas Building to gain student support by sharing his new video. With the concert only a week away, Josh hopes that by spreading the word of his dream, it will eventually become reality.

“If your passion outweighs your struggle, success will always come,” Josh said. “You just don’t know how long. You just got to wait it out.”

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About the Author

Leo Dillinger

Penn State Junior, Print Journalism Major, Minors in English and Sociology, Writer of Arts, Entertainment, News, Tomfoolery and Opinion.

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