June Taylor's School of Dance performs 'The Snow Queen'

by: TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - An original ballet by June Taylor-Dixon, The Snow Queen features 150 of the schools students and tells a classic story of good versus evil.Thirty years ago, boredom and nostalgia propelled June Taylor-Dixon to open up a dance school in Beaverton. It was a long way from Germany, where she’d opened up her first school of dance a decade prior. But after moving to Oregon to be with her husband, Taylor-Dixon needed to go back to her roots and the only industry she’d ever envisioned herself working in.

Growing up in England, Taylor-Dixon was a professional ballet and jazz dancer for 12 years before switching to teaching. Initially, she didn’t think dance instruction was for her. But when the chance arose, it was at a time in her professional career where the transition seemed easier than it had in the past.

“I did a lot of teaching and dancing at the same time until finally, one had to go,” Taylor-Dixon said. “I was getting older, and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to retire from the stage and go into teaching.”

June Taylor’s School of Dance is now in its third location, after moving from Beaverton to Tigard to Tualatin in the past three decades. It serves about 250 students, ages 3 to 18, and instructs them on ballet, jazz, tap and pilates. Every year, the school puts on a spring performance that Taylor-Dixon chooses based on the talent she has at that time. This year, about 150 dancers will perform “The Snow Queen,” an original ballet Taylor-Dixon first staged 20 years ago.

The decision formed from the struggle of trying to find a ballet that would play to the strengths of her two female leads, Amelia Bryan (Snow Queen) and Rachel David (Gerda), who graduated this spring, and won’t be dancing at the school come fall. With Bryan standing at 5 feet, 10 inches and David at 5 feet, 3 inches, most ballets would showcase one but not the other. After wracking her brain for possible options, Taylor-Dixon remembered the ballet she’d done years before. It would be perfect, but would have to be recreated nearly from scratch.

All Taylor-Dixon had left over from the performance 20 years ago were some brief notations and the story’s plot. All the main written records had been lost, and no video of the performance existed, so even if she’d wanted to work. All of this meant she also had to recreate the score.

“I just did it one time and don’t even have the records, so this really is a brand new production,” she said. “And you know something? The school has changed. In 20 years, the school is stronger. The students are stronger, so obviously the performance is going to be changing.”

Exceptional ballerinas

This year, not only are the ballet’s female leads exceptional dancers, but they’re exceptional students, as well. Bryan, 18, is attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall to study biomedical engineering, while David, 17, will be in the University of Oregon’s honors college to study biochemistry.

“I think I speak for both when I say we like being busy,” said David. “(It required) very, very strategic time management slash staying up late a lot of times.”

Both dancers, along with the other advanced students at the school, spend five days a week and about 16 hours at the studio. Throughout the year, they work mostly on technique, only focusing on choreography for performances a couple months ahead of time. Taylor-Dixon’s goal is for all her dancers to be well-rounded outside of performances. What’s the point of learning choreography if you haven’t actually developed the technique to back it up? This is helped along by the school’s status as a Royal Academy of Dance, which means students learn a specific syllabus of skills and are tested via dance exams every year.

“For me, that really provided a good opportunity to clearly have benchmarks of improvement. I really like that,” Bryan said. “But about dancing in general, I really like performing.

“On stage, you can really forget about everything. You really kind of get that feeling of dancing like nobody’s watching. It’s a ‘me in a supermarket dancing down the aisles’ kind of thing. You can’t see the audience, but then at the same time, you know they’re there.”

Grand finale

For both dancers, “The Snow Queen” marks their final big performance with the school. As Taylor-Dixon said, David is essentially playing herself as the sweet heroine who ultimately conquers evil. Bryan, in contrast, has to act out the Snow Queen’s arrogant, vain character.

While both plan on continuing to dance once in college, neither plans on pursuing a professional career, rendering this performance the end of an era. Friends on the stage and off, the young women are more sad about leaving their dance family behind than anything else.

“You’re very invested,” said David. “I think part of it is just because I’ve been dancing here for so long I never really thought of quitting or doing something else. I quit a lot of other things along the way. But this one, I don’t know, I just stuck to it.”

As far as Taylor-Dixon is concerned, her leads’ imminent departure isn’t yet on the radar.

“I’m going to miss them, that’s for sure,” she said. “We’re not talking about it. It’s too painful at the moment to talk about.”

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