“If I ask for a glass of water,” says Kiera, “Riah will be like, ‘Here’s your stool.’”
“One day you’re going to live on your own,” Uriah answers, “and you’re not going to have people to grab stuff.”
The 20-year-old Kiera has good reason for needing people to grab stuff: She’s a quadruple amputee. But she’s also an accomplished dancer with a shelf of dance awards and stacks of newspaper clippings to her name. Though Uriah, two years younger, has often felt in the shadow of her talented sister, the two will share the spotlight in an upcoming dance performance, Soar, that is also the culmination of an in-progress documentary about them.
Kiera lost most of her arms and legs at age 2 when doctors amputated them to prevent the spread of a bacterial infection. She started dancing almost immediately, wiggling and squirming to hip-hop in the living room. As a student at Da Vinci Middle School, a dance teacher persuaded her to leave her chair and dance with the other students on the floor, and she continued from there. In 2009, the Dream Factory granted her wish to visit Juilliard, gaining her a flurry of national media attention. Now she’s a company member with Polaris Dance Theatre, a Portland troupe of young contemporary dancers.
Kiera is small, but she takes up an expanding cloud of space, twirling and rolling seamlessly. “I was not prepared for her facility of movement,” says Susan Hess Logeais, a former San Francisco Ballet dancer and the filmmaker behind the new documentary. At the same time, Logeais noticed how Uriah, who had danced so often with Kiera, moved with the same fluidity.
“Kiera is remarkable,” says Logeais. “Part of that is her own will and courage, and the other is the environment that she was raised in. But Uriah rarely gets recognized for her uniqueness, and she does move in a very unique way. She is just carried in space. It’s so effortless and easy.”
Uriah acknowledges that she often felt ignored. “I felt like I was in her shadow most of the time,” she says. “I was younger, so everyone knew her first, and she had such a strong presence. I was shy, awkward. I didn’t really have that much going for myself.”
In person, Kiera has a primness about her, with pulled-back hair and carefully applied makeup. She’s a self-described people pleaser. The dreadlock-wearing Uriah, meanwhile, recently moved in with her boyfriend and out of the King neighborhood home that Kiera shares with their mom and two other siblings. She’s not as determined as Kiera to keep dancing—she’d like to pursue a career in construction—and says her older sister is more sheltered.
“You’ve always been a mama’s girl,” she tells Kiera, purposefully and with no hint of malice. “You stay under the wing and follow the rules.”
“I agree,” Kiera quickly replies.
When Kiera choreographs, she prefers to have Uriah there. Throughout their years of dancing together, they’ve formed a kind of language—Kiera calls it “sister telepathy.” If Kiera is trying to communicate a certain move that she can’t replicate with her body, Uriah can translate.
“It will be a certain pattern, like ‘duh-da-duh-da-duh,’” Kiera says, “and more than likely that will be a double spin and then flick of the leg.”
And they know when tough love works. When Kiera was asked to join Polaris, she felt apprehensive. “I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up,” Kiera says. “Riah was just like, ‘Suck that up.’”
SEE IT: Kiera Brinkley and Uriah Boyd perform Soar at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 248-4335, with a clip from Susan Hess Logeais’ film and performances by the Portland Ballet, Polaris Dance Company, the Kemba Shannon Ensemble, and the Jefferson Dancers. 7:30 pm Monday, April 21. $25-$35.