Tanya Blanche Johnson, 76, of Philadelphia, who taught ballet for 50 years at the Sydney School of Dance, died Saturday, Dec. 14, from complications of cancer at Doylestown Hospital.
For just over 20 years, Mrs. Johnson also worked as a teacher’s assistant for the Philadelphia School District, with the majority of that time spent at Emlen Elementary in Mount Airy.
“She gave her heart and soul in all that she did to encourage the education of children, whether it was in terms of the arts and dance or in the schools,” said son Marvin Johnson Jr.
Mrs. Johnson was born in Philadelphia to Dorothy Reese Graham and Albert L. Graham. She attended public schools and graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1961.
Her family said her love of dance began at age 5, when she began taking lessons at Sydney, which is now closed.
Dance was her passion, said her son. And she began teaching ballet when she was 14.
She was chosen to represent West Philadelphia High in the All-City Dance Concert. In addition, she performed in many showcases with Lola Falana, a friend who became a well-known actress and dancer.
On Dec. 23, 1961, she married Marvin H. Johnson Sr. and the couple had two children.
Mrs. Johnson continued to work as a dance instructor, but mainly took care of her children. She started working with the School District when her kids were preteens, her son said.
“She was a person who was devoted to the arts, and had a devout love for her family and friends,” Marvin Jr. said. “She was someone who was a trusted and valued friend. If she was your friend, you knew you had someone there for you whenever you needed help.”
Mrs. Johnson was a woman of strong faith and dedicated time and service to her church, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, where she had worshiped since childhood.
Johnson said his parents stressed the importance of education to their children and both became successful as adults. He retired as an executive vice president in sales at Merck & Co. His sister, Monica Johnson Taylor, is an assistant superintendent in the Hatboro-Horsham School District and president of the Philadelphia chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Johnson said that his mother loved to travel and that when her husband was alive, the two enjoyed taking vacations with their grandsons. They went on cruises, to Walt Disney World, and on annual trips to Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Over the past year, as she battled cancer, Mrs. Johnson was always delighted to spend time with her great-granddaughter, Nora, 9 months old.
“Even as she became seriously ill, her face lit up when she saw Nora or even saw a photograph of her,” Johnson said. “She was the apple of her eye.”
In addition to her son, daughter, and great-granddaughter, Mrs. Johnson is survived by two grandsons.
A celebration of life service was held Monday, Dec. 23, on what would have been her 58th wedding anniversary.