Oftentimes in every individuals’ career, it’s essential to be reminded of why you pursued that specific profession. These reminders are comparable to signs that present themselves in many forms: memorable experiences, particular people, or stimulating conversations; oftentimes evoking the comforting thought, “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing.” I recently experienced this epiphany after interviewing our latest cover girl, Dancing With The Stars phenomenon Jenna Johnson. Talking with Jenna was a breath of fresh air as she answered my questions with poise, nobility & full-fledged honesty; willingly diving into the most intimate areas of her life. She expressed how important it is to be open & vulnerable, in hopes that it will inspire someone going through similar circumstances. After our discussion, I began to understand why my encounter with Jenna resulted in my own, “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing,” reminder; as her battles with body image, journey through dance & thoughts on brain positivity deserves to be shared with the masses.
Megan Morgante: You first started DWTS at a very young age, was there ever a sense of intimidation or lack of confidence when you first started?
Jenna Johnson: Oh absolutely. I started DWTS when I was nineteen, and I was the only new person that joined on that season. I was walking into goddesses who have been in the industry for many years. They looked flawless, they knew their way around the show, and I was so insecure and intimidated. I immediately felt this desire that I needed to fit in, that I needed to be like them. I felt I needed to lose a part of myself in order to fit into this industry. I was trying to look, talk, and feel like somebody I was not. Once I finally came into my own, I began to understand that I can be myself and open up. When I began to do that, people responded to me more. They wanted to know who I was and wanted to watch my dancing.
MM: How has your confidence as a professional dancer and overall person developed over time?
JJ: I think that at the end of the day, my love for dance has always remained my strong suit and driving force. Whenever I would have these moments of insecurity, dance was always my safe place. It was the one place that I could turn to that I felt 100% confident in myself. I really thank dance for that. Dance has never given up on me and continues to make me feel strong and empowered.
MM: Has being in the spotlight ever affected you mentally or emotionally?
JJ: Oh yeah. I did So You Think You Can Dance before DWTS, and when I was on that show it was when social media was starting to become very big. We all had to get on Instagram and Twitter, and up until that point, I had never felt bullied. In high school, I kept to myself and I never really had any issues with mean girls. Once I did, So You Think You Can Dance it was crazy the amount of opinions people had of me. Opinions based on what I wore, what I looked like, what I weighed, how my dancing was...it really affected me. It’s funny because on the flip-side, I would never give a stranger my opinion on those things. I would never look someone up-and-down and tell them their flaws. Luckily, I had some amazing peers and mentors who have guided me through it. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, really helped me not give in to the comments and to screw the haters. He helped me see that these people don’t know you personally, so why are you going to give them the time of day? I’ve been really open about the struggles that I’ve gone through, and now I can only hope that I can use my platform to be a voice of support for those going through similar challenges.
MM: While constantly being photographed and filmed, have you ever had negative connotations regarding your body?
JJ: (laughs) Oh yes. When I first joined DWTS, without a doubt, I was the heaviest one on the show. That ate me alive for a while, and I couldn’t stand it. It sent me into a spiral and I ended up gaining a lot of weight. There was a hashtag on Instagram called #MissLittlePiggieJenna. I would get comments from people all the time saying things like, “She’s so fat,” or, “She’s the fattest one on the show.” I ended up going through this major body transformation and I found the right rhythm for myself. I found where I feel the best and where I feel the healthiest, and it’s now. But it did take me a long time to get there. It’s funny because on the flip-side, once I started getting healthy and getting into shape, I would then get comments saying, “She’s too skinny,” or, “She’s a stick, go eat a hamburger.” So I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, where now I’m told that I look anorexic. It’s so disturbing because I don’t personally suffer from anorexia, but a lot of people do. I’ve seen the effects of it and it’s a very serious thing, so to throw that word out there so nonchalantly is so careless because what type of example are you setting for young girls? You have no idea what I have been through or what my eating habits are. So ultimately it’s a tough situation, but I do believe in body positivity. Eventually, I learned to accept my body for what it is; I’m short, I don’t have that long of limbs, but this is my body, so why am I going to torture myself & hate it, if this is what I’ve been given?
MM: You speak a lot about ‘brain positivity’ on Instagram, what does this phrase mean to you?
JJ: There’s a quote that I love that says, “Love your brain, love your life.” I have always had an ongoing conversation in my head for as long as I can remember. If you’re constantly negative, you are going to just weigh yourself down in so many ways. I think your brain affects everything: your body, your energy, your whole state of mind. I’ve been through depression and I’ve had a lot of anxiety, so mental health has always been something that I’ve struggled with. I never really knew how to explain what I was going through because I experienced it at a young age. I never knew how to say, “I feel devastated all the time.” But, why? I have a beautiful life, a gorgeous family, and the best parents in the world...but there was chemically something wrong inside. You don’t want to say that there’s something wrong with you, it’s a taboo thing.
MM: When I was younger, I began to quickly develop anxiety in my teens. I’ll never forget that I would just go around telling people about it. It never bothered me to share that part of me with others because I always felt it could help someone else secretly struggling.
JJ: The biggest accomplishment I’ve had was when I started my blog. I really opened up and was the rawest I’ve ever been. I talked about my mental health and my body, and I began to receive a number of responses from people saying things like, “Thank you so much for starting this conversation or being open, so that I could have the strength to share my story.” That was seriously the most powerful moment in my life and what made me want to initiate this open-book mentality. It’s helped me to then be more open with things in my own personal life because you have no idea the number of people who are going through what you’re going through. The more we talk about it and open up, the fewer people feel like they’re trapped in this little box and struggling alone. You can truly change somebody’s life if you’re willing to open up and share.
MM: Do you feel social media has a negative effect on how women view themselves?
JJ: Totally, it affects how I see myself sometimes! I have to catch myself and gauge how long I’m on social media and who I’m following. If someone, in particular, triggers me and makes me feel bad about myself, then why am I following them? Something that I preach is that comparison is the thief of joy. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to someone else, then you’re never going to see what’s good about you. I feel as though social media is a beautiful picture book filled with what people love about themselves. Do I feel like social media has some positive effects? Absolutely. It’s a way to connect with people and start meaningful conversations with them. But, I have to seriously limit myself because I often do feel myself getting trapped in the, “If only I looked like that.” mentality.
MM: You recently married pro-dancer Valentin Chmerkovskiy. What is it like being able to work alongside one another & being able to support each other in & out of work?
JJ: It’s awesome to share your greatest passion with the person you love the most. I feel like I’m most creative with him so I love that. But, constantly working together is hard. A lot of people think that we’re so lucky to be working with our spouse all the time, but we have to also prioritize our relationship. It’s not like I can come home at night and tell him about my day because he experienced the whole thing with me. There are times where we do get frustrated because while I do love being his dance partner, I also just want to be his wife, as he just wants to be my husband. We’ve really had to find balance in our work life and our relationship. Finding those moments where we can have a date night when we’re on tour so we can get a bit of privacy is key. It has been a struggle at times but finding that balance has made a huge difference for us. I love being able to dance with him, it’s so thrilling and he’s amazing.
MM: What is your favorite part about being able to tour with the DWTS crew?
JJ: My favorite part is meeting the fans, it’s so surreal. To go to each of these cities and meet the fans that are following and supporting you, it’s truly unreal. I feel so incredibly lucky and blessed that we have the opportunity to tour because when we’re on the show the only way to communicate with the fans is through the TV screen and social media. So this is a hands-on way to thank our fans… they’re so awesome.
MM: What do you do when you need to take time for yourself when on tour or training?
JJ: My happy, safe place is at the gym. I don’t go with anyone else, it’s my time to really improve my mental state because when I go to the gym I know I’m so much more productive that day. I’m very independent, so I love my personal space and time. When I can find a moment where I can go on a walk by myself, where I can just reflect or even write, I feel so at ease. It’s hard, we’re sleeping, eating and, breathing together, so it’s so important to find those moments for myself. Also, crying is so therapeutic, I love a good cry.
MM: What advice would you give to a young dancer trying to break into the industry?
JJ: The industry is hard, so the stronger you are and the more committed you are to that goal, the more success you’re going to have. I feel very lucky to be where I am and to have the job that I do, but I know that the dance world is hard. It’s a lot of work, but I know the people who are chasing after that dream, they really do love it. So don’t ever forget that love, desire, and passion that you have for dance, even in those times that you’re struggling and getting frustrated. Don’t let that determination die because it will happen for you, just give it time.
Photography by: Krystena Patton
Written by: Megan Morgante
Hair by: Regis Price
Makeup by: Danii Parkes
Styling by: Megan Morgante