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Sellwood's Classical Ballet Academy celebrates its first decade

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - High school students Alex Stewart and Abigail Robertson appear as the Soldier and the Eldest Princess show a scene from their production, show The 12 Dancing Princesses. The weekend before performing their “Spring Story Ballets” in downtown Portland, student dancers at the Classical Ballet Academy in Sellwood invited THE BEE to be there as they tried on their costumes for the shows on May 10.

As they glided into the large studio at the intersection of S.E. 17th and Milwaukie Avenue, the room filled with color as the students gracefully assembled for photos of scenes from their show, “The 12 Dancing Princesses”.

The program is based on an 1812 Brothers Grimm fairy tale, set to music, Academy Director Sarah Rigles explained.

“We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary,” Rigles said. “10 years ago we did the same show – so it’s a commemorative performance this spring.”

Her school attracts students from as far as Gresham and Hillsboro. But, the younger students are generally “very local” – many walk or ride in on their bikes.

Rigles became a professional dancer in New York City, before moving to Portland. “I knew that I wanted to start a school that was focused on ballet. I taught at several community schools, including the one in Sellwood. I fell in love with the community. So, when I decided to open my own place, I decided to open in Sellwood – and started with just two students.”

Students of the school attend pretty much every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, to rehearse for major shows, Rigles said.

“All of the costumes are handmade by our costume people. And, the parents invest a lot of time as well. In this production there are about 150 dancers. But we are doing five other productions during our ‘performance weekend’ because we have 400 students – we’re mounting different shows to accommodate all of our dancers.”

Although she and her staff spend countless hours at the school, Rigles nonetheless smiles brightly and says, “I’m pretty lucky. I’m very fortunate that I get to do what I love, and spend time with kids and their wonderfully-supportive parents.”

Find out more by visiting their website: www.classicalballet.net.