Meet Northwest Dance Theatre’s Michelle Oakman

As our graduating dancers transition to the next dance or the next act of their lives, the impact these dancers make on their community is long-lasting. Michelle Oakman has been a part of this beautiful NWDT tradition. Michelle’s poise and strength carries across the theatre, while each movement expresses a quality of purposeful meaning with emotive resonance. Michelle and her graduating peers, Sofia Nelson and Emma Anderson, all provide their fellow NWDT dancers support and encouragement. Likewise, Michelle’s vibrant enthusiasm and attention to detail inspires dancers and non-dancers of all ages to pursue their passion.

Michelle performed her Royal Academy of Dance Solo Seal Exam in Vancouver, B.C. on March 9, 2018

Just last month Michelle traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to enter for her Solo Seal examination – a performance award that is determined on a pass or fail basis and is only open to RAD students who have passed their Advanced II examination with Distinction. Miss June attended and said she was “awesome.” Since then, Michelle has also been accepted to State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara, California, as a trainee, which is a wonderful opportunity and fantastic accomplishment. We will miss Michelle’s presence both onstage and in the studio, but as Michelle says, “these [NWDT] dancers are my family and this company will always be home for me.”

Come join us April 14th and 15th, 2018, at the Portland Community College Sylvania Performing Arts Center for Snow White and Other Works! Experience for yourself the power of dance: Michelle, Sofia, Emma, and all our dancers will move you.

Where do you train?

Currently, I train at June Taylor’s School of Dance.

When did you join NWDT? 

I joined Northwest Dance Theater in the fall of 2014.

What is your favorite company memory?

I have so many amazing company memories, it’s hard to think of one specific one. But if I had to choose I’d probably say my favorite company memory was all of the retreats we had for NWDT. Being able to spend a whole day or an all-night retreat just learning about each other and bonding and being as crazy as we wanted was really awesome.

What do you love most about performing

For me, performing has really become much more than just a showcase of my abilities. Over the past four years, I have really begun to see the art of performing and making.

What was your favorite role to dance?

I think my favorite NWDT role was probably Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker. Just because it had always been my dream to be Sugarplum and it was really an amazing feeling to finally live it out.

Michelle as the Sugar Plum Fairy in NWDT’s 2017 production of A Nutcracker Tea – Photo by Colleen Dishy Photography

What challenges have you learned to overcome as a dancer?

As a dancer, my biggest obstacle has been to just let go. I naturally have a tendency to look very tense and focused while I’m dancing and I feel like I have come a long way, but I am definitely still working on relaxing more. Kind of a paradox but that’s okay.

How has your work with NWDT impacted you? 

Being a part of NWDT has given me many tools and experiences that I know will prepare me for a career in dance. Miss June and Miss Kim really emphasize all the responsibilities of dancers as if it was a professional company, and I think the way they challenge us and push us out of our comfort zone is a really important experience. In terms of academic studies, it has definitely helped me with my time management skills.

Who has inspired you the most? 

I’ve been taught by so many amazing teachers but Miss June will always have my highest respects. All the work that she put into me personally and to all the girls is incredible. She inspires me every day and if I could achieve even half of what she has accomplished in her life, I would be pretty happy.

What is your favorite piece in this year’s spring show?

I’m so excited to have the opportunity to be Snow White this year. All the partnering and the acting is something that I don’t get to do very often, so it’s been a really fun challenge for me.

What are your future plans and goals?

After I graduate, I plan to attend a 32 week pre-professional trainee program at State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara, California. I will probably take a few online classes at a community college as well just because I think it’s important to continue with school even if it’s not your priority.

What lessons will you take away with you from your time with the company?

Michelle performing role of Clara with Guest artist Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin of Ballet Idaho in NWDT’s 2016 production of A Nutcracker Tea – Photo by Lindsay Hile Photography

From my time with NWDT, I have grown a lot just in how I am able to communicate with people, how I handle stressful situations, how I solve problems; most of the lessons I have learned have been stress-related lessons. But I’ve also learned  a lot about responsibility and taking initiative, not cutting corners, and being kind to everyone. I really think NWDT has had a tremendous influence on who I am today just because of how great of an environment it is for young people. I feel so blessed that I was able to grow as a dancer and as a person under Miss June.

What is on your mind as you prepare for your last NWDT performance?

I really haven’t thought of it like that, to be honest. I’m hoping that in future years I will be able to come back as a guest dancer. I know that this last spring performance is going to be so much fun and I know everyone is going to love it. But the people of NWDT will always have a special place in my heart and even though I am graduating and leaving the company, these dancers are my family and this company will always be home for me.

Snow White and Other Works will be held April 14 at 6:00pm and April 15 at 2pm at PCC Sylvania. Tickets run $12-18 ($10 for youth) and are available at nwdt.org/snow-white-and-other-works. Please contact 503-925-3898 or email tickets@nwdt.org for more information.