How Ballroom Star Jenna Johnson and Jo+Jax Created a Dancewear Line That’s Ballroom- and Convention-Friendly
Jenna Johnson is fresh off a groundbreaking season of “Dancing with the Stars,” where her flawless technique, creative choreography, and sky-high confidence were on full display. Also in the spotlight? Her next-level rehearsal fashion made up of pieces from her very own line with Jo+Jax. The collaboration debuted this past summer with a dance-tastic runway show in Pleasant Grove, UT, surrounded by some of the state’s dance elite (think “DWTS” pros Witney Carson, Lindsay Arnold and more). The partnership was a first for both parties, and they were each committed to bringing it to the world in style.
Wearing a firecracker-red ensemble, Johnson and her husband, Val Chmerkovskiy, hit the floor first with a fierce cha-cha. Soon, an army of J+J dancers walked (read: danced) the catwalk in all of the new designs. From jazz, to hip hop, to ballroom, Utah talent was on full display (and covered in cheetah print)—including the minis, who walked the marley with ultra sass. It was a show reminiscent of pre-pandemic days—which is exactly what Jo+Jax co-founder Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh had dreamed of. “The energy was intoxicating,” she says. “It was incredible.”
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Over the years, Jo+Jax has been approached by various agents and managers looking to push their dancers for a collaboration. Despite the interest, Dowling-Fakhrieh never jumped at the opportunity. “It was just never the right fit,” she says. But everything changed two years ago when designer (and former student of Dowling-Fakhrieh’s) Hannah Sobisky Gordon joined the Jo+Jax team. “Hannah was my first roommate in L.A. 10 years ago while she was in fashion school,” Johnson says. “I would come home from ‘DWTS’ rehearsals and she would be sewing and pinning, and setting out sketches. I watched her become an incredible designer.”
Because of their personal connection, Dowling-Fakhrieh and Gordon began plotting the potential of a formal collaboration with Johnson. “Jenna was the right person for our brand,” Dowling-Fakhrieh says. “We knew her personally [Johnson, Dowling-Fakhrieh and Gordon were all raised in the same Utah dance community], and knew the kind of character she had. She promotes all the same things we value: believing in yourself, standing up for yourself, working hard and being humble.”
When the Jo+Jax team formally offered the opportunity to Johnson, it was a no-brainer for her. “I’ve always wanted to have a line with my name on it, but I didn’t want to start my own brand,” Johnson says. “It was perfect because I really trusted Hannah, and everything fell into place.”
As designs for the line began, the team at Jo+Jax was interested in harnessing the recent boom in youth ballroom dance brought on by conventions like 24Seven (where Johnson and Chmerkovskiy are on faculty) introducing it into their curriculum. According to Johnson, many of the students who attend her classes on the weekends lack proper ballroom clothing, and she has been eager to change that. “I would show up to teach class in a dress and heels, and the dancers would be in their regular dance clothes, enamoured by what I was wearing,” Johnson says. “My goal was to give these kids access to good-quality ballroom attire, and in the colors that make me feel my best—fire red, cheetah print and sleek black.”
The Design Process
The collaboration process began with both Johnson and the team at Jo+Jax pulling inspiration for what they wanted the line to be. “We weren’t just designing clothing and putting Jenna’s name on it,” Gordon says. “She was involved with every step.” Once they had a handle on what everyone was looking for, Gordon and the Jo+Jax design team sketched designs for consideration. “We started with 25 designs and had to pare it down to five or six,” she says.
“I want to be proud of, and confident in, anything I create or promote,” Johnson says. “The material had to create proper flow and movement. There was a lot of pressure on all of us to get it right.” Johnson brought in some of her favorite ballroom attire and, together, she and Gordon dissected what made it so good, and applied it to their designs.
The Fashion Show
In recent years, Jo+Jax has moved its headquarters from NYC to Utah (a dance-education hot spot). Within their new space is a room they call the “movement lab,” meant to hold events, rehearsals and, someday, master classes in which students can dance in Jo+Jax gear and give feedback on designs. “Our biggest vision when it came to moving to Utah was the ability to have events in which we could give dancers an experience,” Dowling-Fakhrieh says.
And, boy, did they give an experience at their J+J X Jenna Johnson launch party. Dowling-Fakhrieh and Johnson worked together to choreograph the show: Johnson created the ballroom sections while Dowling-Fakhrieh set the jazz and hip-hop moments. “We are both such strong-willed choreographers, my husband was a little nervous,” Dowling-Fakhrieh says. “But it actually ended up being so easy and fun.”
When the performance ended, Johnson, Dowling-Fakhrieh and Gordon took the stage to offer their thanks, and all three women dissolved into tears. “We wanted to create a community where people support each other,” Dowling-Fakhrieh says. “This launch was the culmination of all our hard work, and it has been the most amazing experience ever.”