Dance, fitness at rec center help MTSU student shed 100 pounds

There’s dancing in the aisles, dance ’til the cows come home and more dance phrases than you can shake a leg at these days.

For MTSU junior Cassidy Johnson, her “happy dance” is not necessarily dance the night away, it’s dance the pounds away. About 100 pounds to be exact

As a freshman Honors College Buchanan Fellow in 2016, the Hoover, Alabama, native was already unhappy with her teenage weight gain and wanted no part of the “Freshman 15” — a reference to the extra pounds students tend to add during their first year in college.

So, taking matters into her own hands — or feet, if you will — her weight loss began three years ago after taking up dancing and initiating a fitness routine at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center.

“This ‘me’ (her current weight) was hiding inside that ‘me’,” said Johnson, who bears little resemblance to what she looked like in the “before” photos. “My freshman year was a weird transitional thing.”

Majoring in media management (audio production) and pursuing minors in health and human performance and University Honors, Johnson said she has “overcome a lot of mental health issues” like anxiety and social anxiety— situations where she had to engage with people.

Campus Recreation Center Marketing Director Marianna Gibson said Johnson “is a dynamic student and a great student success story,” while Campus Rec Director Charlie Gregory notes Johnson has visited the center more than 350 times since August 2016.

When people saw the new Cassidy Johnson and her “before” photos, they would say, “This doesn’t look like you.” So she chose to have a new student ID made her sophomore year.

Now, as a ballroom dancer (and fitness fanatic), she’s adept with the Cha-cha-cha, Mambo (her favorite rhythm dance) and American styles of dance, and trains with coach/dance partner Christopher Wayne of Nashville, Tennessee.

They’ve already hit the Millennium Dancesport Competition trail — in St. Louis, Missouri, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and building toward a very important event June 24-28 in Orlando, Florida, the sole emphasis of her Honors College thesis “A Journey Through Dance.” Including Atlanta, Georgia, May 9-11, she’ll dance in six events this spring and summer.

Johnson established a GoFundMe page ( in February to defray costs for the Orlando trip. To date, people have contributed $2,255. Coupled with scholarship money from the Honors College, she is halfway to her goal of $8,000.

“We’ve been having a really great season since January,” she said. “We recently won three different multidance categories in Wisconsin.”

Her thesis “explores how dance can provide medical benefits to your physical and mental health based on recent academic research, as well as the transformative power of the sport on a person’s life,” she said.

In addition to her Honors classes, Johnson began an on-campus job in February as social media coordinator for Production Services, taking photographs and posting them to Instagram and Facebook, after being a crew member the previous year.

“I study at night,” she said late in the spring semester. “Sleep is not a thing I do a lot of. I’m always busy.”

A T-shirt Johnson often trains with reads: “Dance With Whoever Makes You Feel Happy.”

Whether competing or enjoying “social dancing with others when I have the time” — plus the weight loss — she’s one happy dancer with whoever her partner is at that moment.

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