Cassidy Morris has traveled all around the United States during the past 10 years in her quest to become a successful ballet dancer, and is hoping to launch a professional career that could take her to more far-off locations as soon as next year.
But for now, the 18-year-old Washougal resident is relishing an opportunity to dance in front of her family members and friends once again.
Morris will perform in The Portland Ballet’s (TPB) production of “The Enchanted Toyshop,” at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26-27, at Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., Portland. Tickets range in cost from $10 to $38 and can be purchased online at theportlandballet.org/tickets.
“My friends and parents and grandparents (will have an opportunity to see me dance), and I’m super excited for them to get to be there,” Morris said. “My sister also dances here — not for The Portland Ballet, but for a studio in Vancouver — and they always get to see her, so they’re excited to get to see both of us this (year).”
Choreographed specifically for the Portland-based dance academy by John Clifford, “The Enchanted Toyshop” (formerly known by its French title “La Boutique Fantasque”) has become TPB’s “signature showpiece,” according to a news release.
“The Portland Ballet is excited to perform ‘The Enchanted Toyshop’ this coming Thanksgiving weekend after a five-year hiatus,” artistic director Nancy Davis said in the news release. “Audiences and dancers alike love this heartwarming ballet, our alternative to ‘The Nutcracker,’ which is a great way to celebrate and kick off the holiday season.”
Morris has a “star turn” as the Blue Fairy, a “key to all magic,” according to the news release. She will also perform as a Tarantella dancer.
“The magic begins when two children are left behind in a toyshop and the Blue Fairy brings to life a parade of dancing dolls to entertain the guests,” the news release states. “Pinocchio, playing cards and poodles are all part of the fast-paced fun.”
Morris, a Camas High School senior and Clark College Running Start student, returned home and joined the academy earlier this year after spending most of 2021 with Ballet Chicago, an internationally recognized dance training program.
“I actually was not planning on moving away (last) year,” Morris said. “That wasn’t my goal, wasn’t something that I thought about a lot. But I auditioned and ended up going to Ballet Chicago (for its summer intensive camp), and while I was there, they offered me a spot in their year-round program, and so then I started having a conversation with my parents about it … and moved out when I was 16, which is kind of crazy. But I was ready, and I did really well.
“And I actually loved it. I loved Chicago; it’s such an amazing city. I felt super inspired being around so much art and so many people who really wanted to dance as a career; while I was there, four or five of their girls left to audition and (received) contracts. It was just super. It was really eye-opening, and it made me kind of feel like, ‘OK, I can do this.'”
Morris started dancing when she was 7 years old, inspired by her parents, “really big advocates for being involved in the arts.” She joined the Columbia Dance academy in Vancouver and trained there for nine years until she left for Chicago.
“That’s where I learned (how to dance) and basically got my first introduction to performing,” she said. “(I realized) that I loved to perform, and that it’s really fun. I spent most of my time there training and developing my technique. About halfway through my time there, Becky Moore became the new director, and she helped me so much with everything, and she helped me get a lot of opportunities for ‘summer intensive’ camps (all across the country).”
Morris also received help from her aunt Jane Logan, who became one of TPB’s first students in 2001, starred in the academy’s first presentation of “The Enchanted Toyshop” in 2003, and went on to a career as a professional ballet dancer.
“When I started dancing, she shared tips for auditions and so many other things,” Morris said. “She’s really wonderful. She’s married now and has kids, and she doesn’t dance anymore. But she has been a great influence. For years I heard her just rave about (TPB) and its teachers.”
Morris plans to stay with TPB through the end of 2022, then prepare for “audition season” in January and February. She hopes to earn an invitation to join a dancing company, either as a professional or pre-professional “apprentice.”
“I will (probably) drive up to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, and a whole bunch of audition tours from companies all over the country (will be there),” said Morris, who trains in TPB’s Career Track Program for pre-professionals who plan a career in dance. “I’ll do a whole bunch of auditions for summer intensives, and through summer intensives, you can get invited into programs. That’s one of the mainstream ways to kind of get noticed. I’ll also be making video auditions and submitting them to a bunch of places, and hopefully, I’ll get a bite back. I’m fairly confident that I’ll be somewhere else next year, but we’ll see.”
Morris’ passion for dancing is routinely tested by its demands — currently, she practices about 30 hours per week, time that she breaks into chunks to allow for school work, which she completes online.
“Dancing is really hard physically, and it takes up so much time,” she said. “I think that you really have to have the heart for it; otherwise, (you probably won’t succeed). You have to have technique, and there are certain things you need to be able to do, like pirouette and (turn your leg) 90 degrees, things like that. But I have found when auditioning, the things that (instructors) look for the most are people who look like they love dancing, who look like they’re enjoying themselves, who are eager to be there, because that makes you want to work with them.”
She’s also learned how to deal with the mental struggles that her dancing has caused over the years. Although she feels as though she still has much to learn, she’s become more confident in herself and her abilities.
“Dancing is more fun and not as super-stressful (as it used to be),” she said. “I think I’ve gotten better, but I still have (doubts) all the time. But if I’m thinking about giving up or quitting, I’ll feel really strongly (about it one day), and the next day I’ll be like, ‘I love it again.’ I have a really wonderful support system from my family. I’m super close with my parents and three siblings. And I also take a lot of time to process everything by myself. I can (usually) figure things out.”
She has already figured out one of the most important things of all, in fact.
“The arts are a really big part of my life, and I feel like having that (outlet for) artistic expression is really important to me,” she said. “(Dancing) keeps me sane and grounded. I think it’s just so beautiful. It’s like being an artist, being a painter. I’m just seeing where I can go with it. It’s kind of crazy. I think about what the ‘little dancer’ me would think, and I don’t think she would have imagined that she would have come this far and want to pursue this, but I’m really excited.”