Local ‘Nutcracker’ show to feature first African-American lead

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Aanaiyah Jones will lead Classical Ballet Academy's Nutcracker performance on Dec 20.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — At just 10 years old, Aanaiyah Jones is already making waves as a ballerina. She’s slated to be the first African-American to star as Clara in southeast Portland’s Classical Ballet Academy children’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Friday, December 20.

“I felt really excited and happy,” Jones told KOIN 6 News. “I’ve had my first lead role.”

Jones’s instructor, Sarah Rigles-Cocker, is the director of the school that trains young dancers toward a professional career path.

“Aanaiyah really got this part because she has worked hard and looks great doing it,” she said.

Rigles-Cocker recalled the first time Jones attended class at the academy three years ago, where she stood out for being unusually mature for her age.

“A lot of the dancers were just kind of wiggling around and I remember a girl towards the end of the bar that was just standing really, really still with a whole bunch of focus. I remember being surprised,” she said.

Jones originally got her start dancing at north Portland’s Peninsula Park Community Center seven years ago. It was only after joining the academy that she performed in front of actual audiences, not just the parents of performers.

“The first time I played in front of an audience I was nervous because I thought I was going to forget stuff, but I didn’t,” said Jones, who previously performed as a mouse in past productions of The Nutcracker.

The young dancer’s grandmother, Bettye Jones, is credited with being a major support.

“She takes me to dance, she buys all of my stuff, she makes sure I can get there on time, and that I can get my ballet shoes–point shoes,” Jones said.

The newly minted soloist dancer said she wants to open up her own studio for child dancers when she grows up.

“I really think that she’s the type of dancer and person that will probably accomplish whatever she wants to in life,” Rigles-Cocker remarked.

Jones will perform at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall in southwest Portland on Friday, December 20 at 5 p.m. for The Children’s Nutcracker.

It is one of several “Nutcracker” and winter showcase performances the academy is putting from Thursday, December 19 through Sunday, December 22. The shows run the gamut of age groups, skill levels, and performers.

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