Pre-professional ballerina qualifies for international competition

by: PHOTO FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Amelia Bryan, 17, trains in ballet at the June Taylor School of Dance in Tualatin.In some ways, 17-year-old Amelia Bryan has always had a dancer’s instincts.

As a toddler, “She would sit in her car seat and cross her legs and point her toes,” recalls her mother, Betsy Youmans-Bryan.

But the Tualatin teen and her mother agree: She wasn’t exactly poised from the start.

“She was born with her feet turned in, and her little front teeth were blackened because she would fall so much, from falling over her feet,” Youmans-Bryan says.

“That was one of the reasons we got her into dance in the first place, to try to help with that.”

It was a smart move that corrected Amelia’s posture, and which bolstered her general philosophy.

“One of my favorite mottos is, ‘Hard work overcomes talent when talent fails to work hard,’” Amelia says.

At the age of 4, Amelia tried tap, then moved into classical ballet. Now, after seven years of focused training at the June Taylor School of Dance in Tualatin, she’s preparing to show how she’s mastered a form of dance which was, at first, her own kind of physical therapy.

Later this month, Amelia will travel to the exclusive Genee International Ballet Competition in Glasgow, Scotland, for five days of intensive classes led by world-class dancers. At the end of the week, she will perform three variations in front of a panel of judges that includes her personal hero, former Royal Ballet prima ballerina and current Royal Academy of Dance President Darcey Bussell.

by: PHOTO FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Amelia Bryan dances in the high-intensity vocational ballet program at the June Taylor School of Dance in Tualatin.Amelia will be one of about 60 ballet students from around the world, all of whom qualified under strict RAD criteria in the advance 2 level.

“She just didn’t qualify,” June Taylor-Dixon, her teacher, is quick to point out. “She qualified with a very, very high mark. It’s 75 out of 100 to qualify, and she got 86.”

The competition is a crowning achievement for the high school senior, who recalls starting out at a disadvantage when she first came to the school at the age of 10.

“A lot of it was catching up with technique,” she says. “I hadn’t been trained well.”

“She had been taught some pretty bad habits we had to get rid of,” Taylor-Dixon agrees. “But she was determined.”

Taylor-Dixon has long admired Amelia’s work ethic, which allows her to practice ballet about 20 hours a week on average while dancing for the pre-professional Northwest Dance Theatre — all while maintaining a grueling course load. While Amelia is homeschooled under the supervision of her mother, a former NASA researcher, she takes high-level math and science courses at Portland Community College. And she enjoys a few extracurricular activities through the Village Home Education Resource Center in Beaverton, participating in a Model United Nations program and a decorated mock trial team.

“I haven’t ruled out the potential of auditioning for professional companies,” Amelia says, “but I’m also applying to colleges that have a strong classical ballet company. Some colleges like Harvard and Princeton have really good ballet companies attached to their school that are actually known in some areas for their ballet and for their companies, as well as their academics.”

Although she wants to major in biomedical engineering with a possible minor or double-major in public health, she has also done all she can to keep the option of a career in dance open.

“It’s kind of a split in the road when you’re round about 12,” Taylor-Dixon explains. “You can continue just for a hobby and have fun, or you can go into the vocational program, and that means that you’re going to be serious and probably do something with dancing — in a professional dance company, or be a teacher or be in the theater in some way.”

Five years ago, Amelia opted for point shoes — and the vocational route. The mental and physical demands of such training have actually helped her academically, she says.

“It requires even more dedication, even more focus and effort too, really — you’re dancing on point now, so you have to be much stronger. Because if you’re not strong and you’re not training, you could injure yourself. And so I think that was the place when I really kind of gained my full momentum,” Amelia says.

That kind of drive has allowed her to transition into college-level courses that require more dedication outside of class. It has also enabled Amelia to take on the daunting task of creating two original variations to present at the Genée. Always the expressive dancer, she is delighted to imbue one of her newly choreographed works with hometown flavor by using a song by Portland big band Pink Martini.

As Amelia looks forward to her time in Glasgow, she remains level-headed about the role such a competition could play in her career.

“I like setting goals and having goals I can complete,” she says. “Actually, that’s one of the reasons the RAD is such a nice style for me, because there’s that exam every year, and I can work and I can set goals. I can try to achieve a certain mark, which I was able to achieve.”

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