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Dancing toward perfection

Three local dancers head to Belgium to compete in the Genee International Ballet Competition


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sarah Taylor, Alli MacMillan and Elyssa Adams warm up on the barre at June Taylor's School of Dance prior to their trip to an international dance competition in Belgium.Three young women walk to the pale pink wall in a studio at June Taylor's School of Dance in Tualatin. They line up along the barre a few feet apart, and perfectly synchronized, they begin dancing to the tune of live piano music. Calculated, practiced, memorized. When one plies, they all do. When one switches sides, they all do. When one gets off tempo, it's as though the rest focus their energies to make her realign. They dance for a few minutes, and then stop at the end of a set.

“Prepare,” says their teacher, June Taylor-Dixon of Beaverton, when it's time for them to start again. The girls, Sarah Taylor, Elyssa Adams and Alli MacMillan, start right away as Taylor-Dixon paces slowly, carefully watching every movement.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sarah Taylor warms up on the barre at June Taylor's School of Dance in preparation for an international dance competition in Belgium.All 17 years old, the ballerinas have danced together and been taught by Taylor-Dixon since age 3. Their class used to be much larger, but over the years students petered off, and more recently others at their level graduated high school and left town for college, just like these three will come spring. Before that happens, however, the girls have one important competition to put under their belts. Between Sept. 18 and 27, the dancers will compete at the Genee International Ballet Competition in Antwerp, Belgium, after receiving high marks on their Royal Academy of Dance examinations earlier this year.

“I kind of have the last say if they're eligible to go. I say, 'Go, go, do it!' But I don't say that to everybody. Some people, I say, 'Maybe you should wait a year and then try it.' Did you know that?” Taylor-Dixon asks her dancers, who shake their heads and awkwardly look at each other, seemingly trying to see if the others knew. “It's true. I've said to some girls who got the distinction, 'You should get stronger and try next year.'”

This year, 59 dancers will compete at Genee, and the Oregon trio help make up seven U.S. representatives.

“It's kind of intimidating,” says Adams, a Westside Christian High School senior.

While their teacher whole heartedly believes they're good enough for the international competition (“Oh, they're fabulous!" she admits.), it doesn't mean the ballerinas' anxiety is quelled. When asked if they were nervous, all three quickly responded with a simultaneous, “Yes,” followed by laughter.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Elyssa Adams practices her variation at June Taylor's School of Dance prior to an upcoming trip to Belgium.

“I think I would be a lot more nervous if I was going alone,” says MacMillan, a West Linn High School senior. “Before, I'm really nervous. Then when I get on stage, I'm still a little, but not as much.

"You kind of have to focus on just yourself and not on the people around you. You have to focus on doing your own best."

During competition, the dancers might have to focus on themselves, but they got this far, in part, because of the support of each other. Having danced together since before they started elementary school, they all say they view each other as family and joke about how they see each other more often than their actual sisters. For about five years, they've each devoted six days and 16 hours a week to their art, which hasn't left much time for anything else. But, Taylor-Dixon is quick to point out that they're all straight "A" students.

“We give up sleep, social life, homework,” says Taylor, smiling as her friends nod in agreement. “I think it just comes back to the dedication that (ballet) has in it. I feel like dance is really something that you have to be dedicated to in order to become good at it. It's perseverance and the drive, (it's) goal-oriented.”

While in Belgium, Taylor will miss the traditional Jesuit High School senior pilgrimage, saying she'll be one of the only classmates not there for the 12-mile walk and camping trip. Sure, she'll be in Europe, but there's a part of her that wishes she could do both. At the end of the day, however, dance still comes first, as it often has for these girls in the past 14 years. Their dedication is how they've become the “créme de la créme,” as their teacher says.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Alli MacMillan practices her variation in front of the mirror at the June Taylor School of Dance in Tualatin.

“They face challenges everyday — all dancers do — I think that's what makes it so interesting, because you never say, 'I'm there, I can do that, I'm perfect at that. I don't have to work on that anymore,'” says Taylor-Dixon. “There's always somebody next to you who can probably do another turn or balance a little longer, so you're always striving to do better. There's never a pinnacle where you can say, 'I've reached it.'”

With that in mind, the girls practiced intensely all summer to prepare their solos for competition. Each will perform a classical piece in addition to modern piece choreographed especially for them and for which they chose the music. They will be judged on a class competition, as well.

“If you never get a chance to actually show people what you do, then I don't know, it's not really worth it if you're just stuck in a room practicing by yourself,” says Taylor. “But (with) performances, you actually get to show people that you can dance.”

And soon, dancers from around the world will see what these three Oregon girls can do.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - June Taylor-Dixon gives advice to Sarah Taylor, Elyssa Adams and Alli MacMillan during rehearsal.

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