Nothing can inspire kids here more than seeing someone who’s from Hawaii achieve success in the wide world outside the islands. Ballerina Romi Beppu is far too modest to describe herself as a role model, but the soft-spoken Punahou grad’s career — she’s currently a principal dancer with Ballet West in Salt Lake City — certainly gives aspiring young dancers inspiring benchmarks to aim for.
Beppu committed to ballet early, stuck to it through high school, and then left Hawaii to join the American Ballet Theatre in New York. From there she auditioned for the Boston Ballet and became a principal dancer there before moving to Utah.
Beppu is home this month to teach summer classes at Ballet Hawaii and to perform in Ballet Hawaii’s summer production, "Cool Ballet for a Hot Summer: A Medley of American Dance," tomorrow and Sunday at Kennedy Theatre.
"COOL BALLET FOR A HOT SUMMER: A MEDLEY OF AMERICAN DANCE"
Where: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday
"(Teaching) is something I plan to pursue when I stop dancing, so it’s a real joy to get to come back to Hawaii to teach for the local kids," Beppu said when we caught up with her by phone late Saturday morning. "I’ve been teaching in Utah as well as Boston for some years now, but it’s a real treat to come home — especially to teach the local kids."
Ballet fans will remember Beppu as one of the stars of Ballet Hawaii’s 2009 production of "The Nutcracker" last December. She was the enchanting Snow Queen in Act I and returned after intermission for a second showcase number, "Arabian." Her partner in both was charismatic Timour Bourtasenkov; he too is back for the summer show.
This weekend Beppu will be dancing the role of the Waltz Girl in George Balanchine’s iconic "Serenade," and also in "By George!," a celebration of the music of George Gershwin created and choreographed by Tom Pazik.
She says a good instructor teaches more than dance technique.
"I (also) give them my experience, and if they ask about things, I’m very honest with them," she said. "I don’t really sugar-coat anything but everybody has a different experience, and I try to encourage them and give them tips if they’re interested in pursuing a career in the arts or ballet — what the reality of it is and what the life is like."
The training process is "quite tough," she acknowledged "… When you see the dancers on stage, everything looks glamorous, but the daily grind is tough."
Another thing Beppu shares with her students is that they should follow their passion — but think through alternatives.
"If you do have the chance (to dance professionally), and have the passion for it, I say ‘Go for it’ — but always have a back up plan," she said. "It’s really important to be balanced (and) have your life outside dance, to have your education."
Summing up, Beppu describes the hard work and sacrifices as the dues she’s paid to do what she loves.
"I feel really blessed and fortunate to have had a wonderful career, to have danced in three different companies in the United States and to have toured the world as well. All the hard work, blood, sweat and tears — I wouldn’t trade anything for it."