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The 18-year-old Beaverton resident and ballet dancer will head to New York this fall after years dancing for The Portland Ballet

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Although he considers himself somewhat of a late bloomer, Beaverton's Nick Jurica is on his way to Juilliard for dance.“Why’s everyone so nervous?” Nick Jurica asked as he walked into the studio for his Juilliard School audition. The dancers around him were tense and sweating, looking as though they’d already performed an entire ballet.

“It’s just a class,” Jurica said, looking around. “Have fun.”

Throughout the audition process, the 18-year-old Beaverton resident maintained this mindset. He was in San Francisco, dancing at one of the country’s largest studios for one of the world’s best art colleges, but he wasn’t going to waste his time on nerves. After all, he thought, he wasn’t going to make it through anyway so he might as well enjoy it.

But as the day wore on, he kept being called back for the next rounds. After the first section, 60 dancers dwindled to 16. Then to six. Then to four. Jurica was still in the running for one of 12 coveted male dancer slots for the Juilliard class of 2019 — all that and he hadn’t even practiced his solo.

“I knew the solo. I’d seen it 1,000 times. I’d just never done it,” he said with a guilty smile on his face in The Portland Ballet studio. “I’d forgotten that I had to do a solo. ... Luckily, it went really well. That’s what happens sometimes, but I would not suggest it.”TIMES PHOTO: JONTHAN HOUSE - Nick Jurica has been a ballet dancer for five years, and was one of 12 young men selected for Juilliard School's dance class of 2019.

It’s possible, though, that Jurica’s minimal preparation was one of the elements that put him over the top. While his peers were nervously sweating away, he was having fun and dancing the same way he had the previous five years. It’s entirely possible that this “have fun” attitude is exactly why Jurica is the dancer he is.

In April, two months after his auditions, Jurica got a call — he was in.

The road to New York

Jurica’s parents aren’t dancers. His younger sisters are, but only because he and his older brother danced first. When he first stepped foot in a dance studio for class at age 10, it was against his will and during a time in his life when soccer was his primary avocation. The lessons, for ballroom dancing, were free — thus the nudge by his mom to attend. But it turns out, Jurica — alongside his brother — took to dance, added hip hop to his repertoire the next year and ultimately added contemporary and ballet to the list.

“I think not starting with ballet actually made me a stronger ballet dancer in the sense that I’m not physically the most gifted dancer,” he said. “My feet aren’t perfect. My legs aren’t perfect or anything like that. But I really know how to move and I’m musical, and I think that came from doing other styles of dance.”

In eighth grade, following his brother, he got into the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton and joined The Portland Ballet. But just because he didn’t play soccer anymore didn’t mean he wasn’t competitive — Jurica wanted to be the best. After graduating from ACMA in June, he was granted the school’s Artistic Excellence award.

“Wanting to be the best in the classroom, wanting to show off — that kind of drove me in the beginning. It’s funny, because where I am now, it’s like that doesn’t even matter,” he said. “There’s still that wanting to be the best, but it’s wanting to be my best.”TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Beaverton's Nick Jurica received the Artistic Excellence Award from ACMA.

Here, too, is where Jurica’s training in other dance forms has served him well. Starting ballet, he said, it’s all about sameness. All the boys wear white shirts and black tights, their hair neat and tidy. Personhood is left at the door alongside ego. It’s about the steps, about technique, about straight legs and pointed feet. But as dancers get older, their personality is expected to show through. They’re expected to have a style, a uniqueness that belongs to them alone.

After years of stripping down to basics, adding style back can prove difficult. It takes effort. It takes practice. It takes time. But it’s necessary, Jurica said, because at the higher levels, everyone can do the steps — the key is being unique.

“Everyone has something to bring; everyone has something they’re good at. There is no better or worse; there’s just differences,” Jurica said. “If you’re the best you can be, then you’re the best. You can’t be better than you can be, and yet you can always be better.”

These are the lessons that Jurica spent the past year learning. He practiced relaxing while he danced, something he always struggled with (a teacher once told him that he looked like a junior axe murderer because his face was so tense). And though he hasn’t perfected the art of relaxation yet, he’s definitely getting better if his Juilliard audition was any indication. TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Arts & Communication Magnet Academy graduate Nick Jurica warms up with some jumps at The Portland Ballet.

“I still can’t make it look easy — I try really hard though,” he said. “I guess I try to not try.”

While he says he’s still working on it, Jurica does look effortless as he dances. A turn at the end of a leap looks like second nature. He springs off the floor with ease and lands with grace. He jokes about being able to do the splits all day, but it’s likely true.

Still, Jurica isn’t cocky at all. He knows he’s good, but openly acknowledges that plenty are better. Even his Juilliard admission, seemingly a slam dunk in the ‘Aren’t I great?’ arena, is something he’s modest about, noting that it was 50 percent ability and 50 percent timing. And already, Jurica knows that for true success, his dance career needs to be about more than just dancing.

“The goal is to dance and to be wanted where I’m dancing to always be doing something that is improving the dance community,” he said. “I think those that have the most experience or the most success, it’s then their responsibility to bring up the others around them. And I think that’s true for anything.

“It doesn’t matter who’s dancing or who’s doing the movement. What matters is that it’s being done.”TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Nick Jurica, who recently won admission to the Juilliard School in New York, prepares for a quick run-through at The Portland Ballet.

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