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Big Dreams for Young Ballerina

Dancer builds on foundation for success

Beverly Corbell | 12/3/2019, 12:05 p.m.
She got her start in ballet at Portland Parks and Recreation’s Peninsula Park Community Center
Aanaiyah Jones, age 10, started taking ballet at age 3 at Peninsula Park Community Center in north Portland, but now takes lessons at Classical Ballet Academy, a serious training ground for future professional dancers in southeast Portland, where she will star as Clara in the school’s production of The Nutcracker on Dec. 20. Photo by Beverly Corbell

Aanaiyah Jones has been taking dance lessons since she was three years old and though she’s only 10 now, she’s already preparing for a future on the biggest stage of them all, becoming a prima ballerina in New York City.

“I love to dance because you can totally express yourself and be yourself,” she said recently as she was working out dance exercises at her school, the Classical Ballet Academy in southeast Portland, where she’s been taking classes under director Sarah Rigles for the past three years.

Jones got her start studying ballet at Portland Parks and Recreation’s Peninsula Park Community Center, a program serving a diverse population in north Portland before moving on to the more advanced classes at the academy.

According to Portland Parks’ spokesman Mark Ross, this is the first time an African American child will have the lead in the academy’s Christmas production of the Nutcracker. The performance will be at 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20 at the Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University. The academy will have two other performances of the Nutcracker on Dec. 19 and 21, Rigles said, with different leading cast members for each performance, giving more kids the opportunity to share the spotlight.

Aanaiyah Jones (center) is learning the skills necessary to become a professional ballerina thanks to the mentorship and instruction she receives from Sarah Rigles (left), director of the Classical Ballet, and the support and the encouragement of her grandmother, Bettye Jones.

Aanaiyah Jones (center) is learning the skills necessary to become a professional ballerina thanks to the mentorship and instruction she receives from Sarah Rigles (left), director of the Classical Ballet, and the support and the encouragement of her grandmother, Bettye Jones.

But the spotlight is where Jones, a Russell Elementary fourth grader wants to be, she explained, as she moved lithely across the dance floor in the practice studio, preparing her moves. Eventually, she wants to open her own dance school and teach, she said.

Aanaiyah’s grandmother, Bettye Jones, has been a mainstay in encouraging her granddaughter’s passion for dance, which began the moment she crashed a ballet class that was underway at Peninsula Park when she was three.

“She saw a group of little girls and she just went over a joined them,” Bettye Jones said.

Ross said it’s gratifying that a young dancer got her start through Portland Parks.

“She took dance instruction from teacher Sandy Shaner at Peninsula Park Community Center for two years starting at age three,” Ross said. “Her skills and prowess led her to lessons at Portland’s prestigious Classical Ballet Academy where her talent allowed her to skip ahead in their rigorous program and to begin advanced training year-round.”

Bettye Jones said she picked the academy to advance her skills not just because of its dance curriculum, but also for its philosophy, in that it promotes “principles of fairness, equity, diversity and inclusion in relations to, and across, intersections of race, age, color, disability…” among other values she holds dear.

“I like what’s being taught here, I like the teachers, the students, the parents and the whole program,” she said.