“Ballet dancers are notorious for being a bit stiff. Studying other styles helps you get rid of that rigid quality.” —Ashley Dawn
Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Ashley Dawn didn’t take ballet seriously until she was about 10 years old. “Before that, I was really into tap and jazz and hip hop,” she says. Eventually she discovered that she loved ballet’s technical challenges. But even as she began to attend ballet summer intensives, she found that she relished the programs’ occasional jazz and hip-hop classes. “They were the perfect breaks from the intensity of ballet,” she remembers.
Today Dawn takes those “breaks” at Vega Dance+Lab, an open-class studio in Portland. “I drop in all the time to take hip hop,” she says. “I’ve even experimented with ‘Burly Q,’ a combination of burlesque and jazz! I love to get a little funky, to give classical music a rest and dance around to top 40 songs.” Dawn also finds that mixing things up stylistically “keeps your brain fresh,” she says. “You’re learning a routine really quickly,” without any ballet vocabulary shortcuts. “It helps you stay sharp.”
Last year, OBT performed Trey McIntyre’s Speak, a “hip-hop ballet” danced in sneakers. “There’s even a pas de deux set to a Bloodhound Gang song!” Dawn says. “Definitely not traditional. But it didn’t feel strange to me. I didn’t have to fake my way through it.”