To casual observers, the world of ballroom dance remains shrouded in relative mystique and classical sensibilities. Though it’s typically thought of here in the States as a European tradition, ballet and other types of formal dance are in reality a global phenomenon, with schools of dance thriving everywhere from Hawaii to Vermont.
We recently got in touch with Tommy and Mairi Bettin, a young couple who have spent their entire lives in the realm of classical dance. The two recently took it upon themselves to share their craft with residents of greater Richmond, Virginia by starting up their own private dance studio. Current Artisan checked in with the duo to learn more about what a life dedicated to professional dance looks like in both coaching and performance capacities.
Hello Tommy and Mairi! Thanks for your time. At CA we like to start off with the basics, so: you were both enrolled in ballet and dance education from young ages. How did you originally gain interest in dance on a formal level?
Tommy: My family has always invested themselves in the arts, so it felt natural for me to follow suit. I’m the youngest of four, and every one of my siblings went to a magnet school for performing arts. When I was seven, my older brother Jack left home to pursue a professional career in ballet. When he would come home he used to show me famous videos of Baryshnikov, tell me stories, and even taught me my first ballet class in the downstairs of our house. Under his advice, I went to boarding school in Washington DC and perused a career performing and coaching and have never looked back.
Mairi: When I was four years old, I followed my friend into a ballet class and that was it! It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out my father was a professional ballet dancer himself.
What was it like to transition from your dance educations to performing professionally? Was it a bit of a shift going from one to the other?
T: Not too much, my teachers prepared me for this so it wasn’t an unexpected shift. During your dance education you are working on your technique, artistry, and your body everyday. Your teachers and coaches are continuously striving to help you reach your full potential. When you start performing as a professional, you’re given choreography and you perform it. You must take full control of your development as a dancer and prevention of injuries. I’m grateful to my teachers for preparing my properly.
M: There wasn’t really a shift for me because my teacher in Hawaii gave us a lot of responsibility and many performance opportunities, which is rare for a small ballet school. For the most part, I had pretty much done all of the major classical roles by the time I was 16.
Mairi, I’ve read that you’ve participated in ballet competitions all around the world. So here’s a question for both of you: what’s the craziest place your dance careers have taken you?
T: For me it was Hawaii because it turns out, before Mairi and I knew each, other she saw me perform there. Also, Mairi is from Hawaii and I really cherish my time there with her and her family.
M: St. Petersburg, Russia, only because I had dreamt of going there since I was a little girl. It felt like an unreachable goal at the time… now it’s much easier!
Taking a step back from your professional careers — how did you two initially meet? I’m guessing dance was involved.
M: Yes it was! When we were working in Columbia South Carolina I was coaching a group of professional dancers for their upcoming productions and Tommy was one of the dancers.
T: I ended up driving her home almost daily. We started to get to know each other during the car rides and soon fell in love.
For a number of years you’ve owned your own dance studios — how has that experience been? What is the atmosphere of learning that you try to create? Do you have a philosophy behind your teaching style?
T: Owning our own studio has been great! We strive to make the atmosphere full of warmth and professionalism. We are lucky to a have a time tested method of teaching.
M: We have found Fred Astaire Dance Studio’s Trophy System and Conceptual Method of Teaching to be the most effective in helping students accomplish their goals whether it is to just learn enough to make it by on the dance floor or to be the best of the best!
Imagine I’m considering learning how to dance — what would you say to convince me?
T: I have asked the same question to every single one of our students and I always get a similar answer. They say “Just do it!” and I agree. If you can see yourself learning how to dance come in to our studio and just do it!
M: Once you feel yourself moving to the music and you’ll get it!
There has been a lot of buzz about Fred Astaire Richmond. Do you have any plans for its future?
T: Absolutely! Fred Astaire Dance Studios has been around for 70 years and currently has 185 studios worldwide. We plan for Fred Astaire Richmond to be a top studio in the future!
Look out for Fred Astaire Richmond to open in early 2018!