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Ballet bonds Beaverton family
When Ariana Davis, 15, takes the stage in the leading role of "The Enchanted Toyshop," she'll also be taking the next leap toward fulfilling a family legacy.
The sophomore at Beaverton's Arts & Communication Magnet Academy will play the Blue Fairy in the Portland Ballet's annual Thanksgiving weekend production, about two children who accidentally get locked in a shop where the toys come to life. It's a role she's looked forward to playing since she joined the Portland Ballet at age 6 — but the wheels were in motion even before that.
Davis' parents, Michelle and Jason, both teach at the Portland Ballet and at ACMA. The couple met when they danced professionally for the San Francisco Ballet in the '90s.
"He and I, because of our heights, we got partnered together quite a bit in the first couple years, when we were new to the company," Michelle said with a laugh. "So that's how we met."
The couple had their first two children, Ariana and Andrew, 13, in San Francisco, before moving to Oregon in 2004. They had their third child Isabel, 11, after settling into the Portland area.
By 2008, both Jason and Michelle were working for the Portland Ballet — and watching their children begin to develop a love for dance that matched their own.
"They really started by putting me in classes, and it's turned into more than a hobby for me, with their help," Ariana said, adding that ballet is her "passion."
"It's kind of hard sometimes, but at the same time I've never really known anything different, because I've grown up with them as my teachers my whole life."
All three children now dance in the Portland Ballet, and Andrew will join his sister onstage in this year's production of "The Enchanted Toyshop." In fact, the family refers to the company as its "second home."
"It's really fun for me," Michelle said. "I think it's more fun now that they're older, because everything becomes so much more technical and artistic, and I can try to pass on what we've experienced and learned, even just when it comes to the daily life of being a dancer."
Both Michelle and Jason give advice to their kids, from the technical aspects of dancing to more practical tips like maintaining a sensible diet, balancing life and dance, and not getting too overwhelmed by their long-term goals.
"It can be really intimidating if you look at a year or two in one big clump, so I try to get them to just take it a year at a time," Michelle said.
Ariana has done summer intensive programs with both the San Francisco Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. She has dreams of dancing professionally for one of the companies in the future. And while she acknowledges that her favorite piece of advice from her parents "might sound cliché," it's been invaluable to her.
"My dad is always telling me to push myself to my limit, and to keep going no matter what," she said. "I know he really wants to see me be successful, and it would make me really happy to do that."
For Ariana, pushing herself means practicing between 30 and 40 hours per week, and spending Saturdays and weekday afternoons rehearsing to play the Blue Fairy.
"This is my dream role," Ariana said about the part. "It's the role I've been looking up to since I was 7 or 6 years old. ... She's the hero. She saves the day in the story, and she brings hope back into the top shop. And she brings everybody together in the end."
The Blue Fairy is calm and graceful, but she also has a powerful presence, Ariana said — and Michelle used similar words when describing her own daughter.
"She's very strong, and she has long limbs. So she has a very beautiful fluid quality. But she has a lot of strength as well."
When asked whether that style is more similar to her or to her husband's, Michelle laughed.
"I think I was a bit more short and more into quick jumping, and she's definitely more like Jason," she answered. "She's more fluid in her movements, which I always wished I had."
Michelle knows that for some teenagers, having both parents involved in their school and after-school activities would be considered a nightmare scenario. But she asked Ariana once if she minded the constant involvement, and was pleasantly surprised by her answer.
"She's like, 'No, I'm used to it,'" Michelle said. "I'm like, 'Thank God!' Because I think it's pretty fun."
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