The Edge School of the Arts (ESOTA) was founded in 1996 and modeled after the prominent Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, which stood as a beacon of cultural and artistic excellence in Southeast Queens for almost 50 years.
Bernice Johnson (affectionately known to all as BJ) the former Cotton Club and Apollo Theatre chorus girl, and wife of the late jazz saxophonist Albert “Budd” Johnson, was the guiding force behind the BJCAC. The muraled staircase of her now empty building on Merrick Boulevard in downtown Jamaica continues to pay tribute to the many students who passed through its doors. Over the course of her illustrious career, BJ trained such talents as Ben Vereen; choreographers Michael Peters (Michael Jackson’s Beat It and Thriller), Lester Wilson (Saturday Night Fever and Solid Gold); founder of Dance Africa Chuck Davis; the first Black Miss America contestant – Cheryl Browne (1970); Valarie Pettiford – Tony nominee (Fosse) and star of the UPN sitcom Half and Half; former Alvin Ailey dancers Michele Simmons, Shirley Black-Brown, Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, and Leonard Meek; former Living Single and VIP cast member Shaun Baker Jones; former Twyla Tharp, Lar Lubovitch and Baryshnikov’s White Oaks Project dancer Roger Jeffrey; music video choreographer Brice Vick; and R&B princess Ashanti and her momager Tina Douglas.
BJ worked her deep showbiz connections and recruited top entertainers to teach her students. Cholly Atkins, Arthur Mitchell, Frank Hatchett, and Butterfly McQueen are just a few who shared their brilliance with her students. But BJ’s students learned more than dance. They learned discipline, professionalism, excellence, culture, and the importance of obtaining and maintaining a competitive edge. BJ’s life lessons helped produce doctors, lawyers, judges, police officers, school teachers, producers and some of the best dancers in town.
Beverly Edge (our Facilities Manager) was among BJ’s first students, and Beverly’s daughters – Donna, Wendy, and Kerri, followed in their mother’s footsteps. In 1993, Kerri formed the children’s dance ensemble KECDE! (kekda) within the walls of the BJCAC. When BJ’s health declined, Beverly, Donna, Wendy and Kerri decided they could best continue her legacy by opening their own school and the Edge School of the Arts opened its doors in September of 1996.