Jody White, beloved matriarch of the Roxander family, was a renowned ballet teacher and choreographer whose career spanned 57 years. When she passed away suddenly in March of 2009, her son David (Rocky) made a promise: “No matter what, my boys will never forget you. I will keep your memory alive forever.” Ten years later, Rocky and his wife Elyse have made good on that promise. Not only do their sons Ashton and Jake remember their grandmother, they themselves have become professional dancers. Both currently have contracts with the Pennsylvania Ballet, and were trained locally by their parents at Studio Roxander.
Although Rocky opened the academy with the sole intent of keeping his mother’s memory alive and inspiring generations of new dancers in her name, they have quickly become the gold standard in ballet here in the Rogue Valley. After a location change to their permanent home on E. 10th Street in Medford, they began competing in the world’s largest non-profit international student ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix, (YAGP). They’ve racked up nearly two-dozen awards there since 2015, everything from Outstanding Teachers to Best Overall Dancer to Best Pas de Deux (duet performance). The Medford Sneak Preview has also named them Best Performing Arts Production for The Nutcracker and Surealia the last four years running. When asked what it is about their teaching that puts them in such a category of excellence, Rocky jokingly says, “Well, you have to know what you’re doing.” To which Elyse laughs heartily but in all seriousness Rocky admits, “You have to make sure you really know your stuff and we’ve been doing this since we were tiny children.”
Indeed they have. Together, they’ve built an incredible legacy, but separately, they both have impressive resumes. If their sons seem extraordinarily dedicated to their craft, (both graduated from high school a year early to go pro), they come by it naturally. Rocky had an eighteen-year career with the National Ballet of Canada and toured the world, dancing with the famed Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. One of his earliest memories is hearing the classics of Chopin and Beethoven from beneath the keyboard where his mother would put his bassinet when he was an infant. He believes music and ballet were hard-wired into his DNA from a life spent within the industry.
Likewise, Elyse has a remarkable dance roster as well. She began dancing at three and continued until age sixteen when she took a hiatus. Resuming at nineteen, she began teaching soon after. It just so happened that she made her comeback at the same California studio Rocky opened when he returned to the States. Rocky remembers his transition from being a professional athlete back into the “real world” as difficult and credits Elyse with believing in him when he didn’t believe in himself. He says, “She actually pieced me back together and through that process we fell in love.” Their story is so beguiling it’s hard not to get emotional listening to what you know becomes the foundation for not only Studio Roxander, but also their close-knit family.
This is a family that refuses to let anything undermine its core values. When stuck in the cogs of California commuting, enduring the stress of urban sprawl, and the demand of a successful Bay Area ballet school, the Roxanders re-evaluated their goals and retired from that life. They moved to Southern Oregon and chose to focus on their boys. For years they did what parents do. They took their kids to karate and sat on the other side of the glass, enjoying being all-in-all-the-time. It was a far cry from the fast pace they escaped and they loved it. But all the while they felt the tug to teach and Rocky’s mom (who also retired to Southern Oregon) encouraged them to share their talents. In September 2009, after Jody’s untimely death, armed with new perspective and a desire to honor her memory, they opened Studio Roxander. But they’re clear about one thing: it didn’t start out the robust ballet academy it is now.
It wasn’t until Ashton decided to be a dancer that there was a shift in the way the community perceived them. Once he began preparing in earnest, spending six hours per day to train, the culture of the studio began to change. People began to see it as a serious and professional ballet school and its stellar reputation began to form. Today, Rocky calls Ashton his hero. “People saw his passion for what he was doing and were attracted to it. They saw the commitment he put in at such a young age to make his dream happen. He was happy, healthy and so well-adjusted, people started to realize, this isn’t a kid that’s burning out or being driven by his parents.”
Part of what makes Studio Roxander so successful is their shared vision. When Elyse says, “Kids find joy through dance and expression,” Rocky nods in agreement. And when Rocky says, “I hope our dancers are better versions of themselves and grow as people because they had contact with us,” Elyse nods. Studio Roxander may have started as a way to help the world remember Jody White, but it endures because three generations continue to preserve her vision.