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Two friends from grade school have grown up, have families, and have opened their own dance academy

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Amber Black, left, and Jessie Nelson are co-owners of Pacific Dance Academy in Sellwood - a non-competitive and community-focused dance studio that promotes fitness and self-esteem through the art of dance.When Jessica Nelson and Amber Black were in elementary school, they met while taking dance classes at the Marvel School of Dance on S.E. 79th and King Road in Milwaukie.

Over the following twenty-seven years, the two women – now also mothers of young children – maintained their friendship and, this past February, opened the "Pacific Dance Academy" in Sellwood, where they are co-owners.

The two tell THE BEE that they were happy to be able to lease the location on S.E. 13th Avenue just south of Spokane Street. With volunteer help from their husbands and fathers, in January they constructed a new floor, and hung large attractive mirrors – turning the space into an elegant dance studio that has flourished in its first year.

Pacific Dance Academy, a non-competitive and community-focused studio, has seven instructors who teach an array of dance styles: Creative Movement, Ballet, Contemporary, Tap, Jazz, and Hip Hop are offered for children in the afternoons; and children's Hip Hop and Ballet also are held on Saturday mornings.

Adult classes offered in the evenings are Contemporary, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Ballet. In addition, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Hula classes are held monthly for adults – and an adult class for Yoga Fundamental is also held monthly on Wednesday evenings.

Nelson and Black say they want their students to learn dance as a hobby, or for recreation. Black comments, "We want our students to build confidence and comfort, and fall in love with dancing" – but they also recognize that families may need time for sports or other interests. Their Spring and Winter Showcases are just one hour long, so that the entire family, even very young children, can enjoy the performances.

They are enthusiastic about their instructors and interns. "They are an amazing part of our collaborative team. All of them love the children and their families," remarks Black. "The instructors are really creative in their music selections, making them appropriate for the age and the class."

To determine which dance style is desired by a child, "Kids can test out a different style each day for a week, so he or she can choose, before registering."

Both co-owners, who are also dance instructors at the academy, have extensive dance experience. Nelson, better known as Jessie, graduated from Milwaukie High – where she received All State Honors – and from Western Oregon State University, where she earned a degree in dance. She was principal owner of Pacific Dance Academy in Milwaukie for thirteen years, where she gained studio management experience and taught all forms of dance. She closed that academy last year and happily re-opened in Sellwood this past January as co-owner, with longtime friend Black.

Black taught dance at Pacific Academy in Milwaukie for nineteen years, and has trained and performed in major cities throughout the west coast, and in Portland. In addition to dance, she has a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy from Pacific University, and works part-time at Kaiser Permanente. She enjoys helping students learn how to integrate mind/body awareness into their dancing.

The co-owners emphasize building a community of dancers and families. Consequently, the studio space can be rented for birthday parties, in which entire families and friends can take a dance lesson together and celebrate. The space can also be rented by professional dance teams and companies.

Black and Nelson tell THE BEE they are excited to be located in such a cohesive and thriving community as Sellwood. They see their new location as offering a new opportunity to be creative and flexible, which includes taking input from the community about new classes or times that might be suggested.

Enrollment for the upcoming Winter/Spring session started in November. The "Winter Showcase" performance, to be held at Mt. Scott Community Center at S.E. 72nd and Harold Street, was held on December 14.

To learn more about Pacific Dance Academy classes, and to register, go online – www.pacificdanceoregon.com


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