A Washington, D.C. native, Lisa. Johnson-Willingham attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and is a graduate of University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
For five years (1994-1999), Ms. Johnson-Willingham was a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater under the artistic direction of Judith Jamison. Throughout her career, she also danced with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, New World Dance Company, Donald Byrd/The Group, Joel Hall Dance Company, Deeply Rooted Productions, Footprints, and Cerqua/Rivera Art Experience.
During her time with the Ailey Company, Ms. Johnson-Willingham was invited by Judith Jamison to choreograph for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during its 40th Anniversary Season – a piece entitled Restricted (1998). While living in Chicago, she choreographed for many prominent dance companies, theater productions, and musicals at the Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago Dramatist, and Congo Square Theater Company.
Ms. Johnson-Willingham leadership experience in the arts includes a decade-long position as Director of AileyCamp Chicago, heading dance programs at the Dance Conservatory of Chicago High School for the Arts and Whitney Young Magnet High School, and teaching positions at Columbia College, Olive Harvey College, and Joffrey Ballet Academy of Dance.
Throughout her 24-year history with Ailey, she has been passionate about mentoring aspiring dancers, such as Ailey II dancer Martell Ruffin and Ailey dancer Solomon Dumas – who attended AileyCamp Chicago during her tenure and in 2016 became the first former AileyCamper to earn a role as member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Lisa Johnson-Willingham became director of Ailey Extension in 2011, expanding Alvin Ailey’s vision that dance is for everybody through innovative and accessible dance programs for students of all ages, levels, and backgrounds. Under her leadership, the program has continued to thrive since its inception in 2005, attracting over 83,000 new students; creating annual workshops like Ailey Experience, Voices and Visions, and World Dance Celebration; and hosting premiere guest artists like Les Twins, Yanis Marshall, and Pretty BIG Movement