By Rebecca Scott
February 19, 2016
[Medford, Oregon, USA] – A lifelong, multigenerational passion for ballet and the arts runs deep through the Roxander family. Proud parents of two boys and owners of Studio Roxander Academy of Ballet, David and Elyse Roxander of Medford taught their sons all they know about life and the ballet.
At the Youth America Grand Prix in Seattle, Ashton and Jake Roxander competed against dancers from around the world and received top honors. The Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest international student dance competition.
“It’s also a total mob scene,” says Elyse. “There’s a small concrete area behind the stage, basically a loading dock, where the dancers warm up. You’re on stage with 80 or 90 people getting elbowed and knocked around. Then you have 15 minutes of stage time.”
In spite of the tense environment, the brothers excelled at the competition. Ashton, 18, took first place in the Classical Senior Men’s/Women’s Division and second place in the Men’s Contemporary Division.
“It felt great to win first place in the Classical Division for the second year in a row. It was an honor, especially because I was competing against the girls as well as the boys,” says Ashton, who is a trainee with the Boston Ballet and actively pursuing a career as a professional dancer.
Jake, the youngest of the family at age 13, was awarded the elite youth Grand Prix title. The award is presented to the dancer who, according to the jury panel, has exceeded all other male and female scores in their division in both the Classical Ballet and Contemporary/Open Dance categories.
“I was incredibly nervous in Seattle,” says Jake. “When they called my name, I was pretty calm, because I had imagined the scenario in my head so many times. It was just like what happened to one of my heroes, Aran Bell.”
Bell won the Grand Prix when he was 12.
“Heroes of mine are always a huge deal for me,” says Jake. “Aran Bell was an inspiration to keep learning and dancing.”
It wasn’t only the Roxander brothers who were honored at the regional event. David and Elyse received a special award for Outstanding Teacher. “My dad is the most qualified in the area to train male dancers, and that’s not just my opinion,” says Ashton.
David’s experiences with the ballet began as a baby. “My mom was a ballet teacher. She went back to dancing shortly after I was born. She used to put my bassinet under the piano. My earliest memories are sleeping and hearing the piano play.”
David and Elyse initially moved to Southern Oregon from the San Francisco Bay Area for a quieter lifestyle. “We wanted to get out of the rat race,” explains Elyse. “We didn’t plan on opening a business.”
Studio Roxander opened in 2009 and moved to its current location in downtown Medford five years later. Six months before the studio opened, David’s mother passed away. “Before I said goodbye to her, I promised I wouldn’t let her memory die for the boys,” David says. “We decided to open the school in her name. Our logo is one of her drawings, so every time you walk into the main studio, you see her.”
Ashton and Jake each scored a 96 out of 100 at the Youth America Grand Prix, which qualifies them to compete for international titles in their respective categories at a competition in April in New York City. “It’s like the Olympics with no practice,” says David.
The Roxanders will spend eight days in Manhattan, traveling all over the city to different venues. The boys will compete for two days and perform in master classes the remainder of the time. The classes are also judged.
The Roxanders attended the New York competition last year and have an idea of what to expect. “We stayed in an apartment rather than a hotel,” says Elyse. “We’d go back every night, have a normal meal, talk about what happened that day and about tomorrow.”
“You’re riding this toboggan of emotion and drama,” says David. “But family keeps it together. You’re reminded of the power of a family unit.”
While the brothers experience the pressures of performing, David and Elyse feel the weight of being both parents and teachers. “As a teacher you have a buffer, because it’s your student,” says David. “But when it’s your child who is your student, the layers of responsibility are so heavy it’s hard to keep your professional distance. You think about what you’ll say if he loses. You want him to know it’s OK and this is only a stepping stone. Win or lose, this is one event in a lifelong string of experiences.”
Whatever the result of the competitions, David and Elyse know their sons will come out the other side better young men. “I want my sons to be confident and believe in themselves,” says David. “This event will be a valuable experience forever. If they can get through this, they can get through anything.”
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