Aug. 4 2010 12:00 AM

Dancer Carol Bentley shares Broadway basics with Lansing students

When Carol Bentley arrived
in New York, eager to start a Broadway career, she had the memories of a
theater-filled childhood in East Lansing to guide her. She remembers “A Chorus
Line” and “Dreamgirls” had a big influence on her. Often, when professional touring
companies passed through town, actors would hold workshops and share their
experiences and teach local aspiring dancers.

Still, the competitive
nature of the theatre scene in New York was overwhelming.

“When I first got to New
York, I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for the amount of people who
were there trying to do the same thing,” she said. “I felt grateful for the
professional foundation that was instilled in me. They offered so much
information and insight and inspiration that we were really able to, it just
provided us with such a foundation of understanding and hope. I can’t
underestimate how important it was to have that.”

Many years later, Bentley
has indeed found success on Broadway and in the theater industry, having performed
in “Spamalot,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” as well as
being in the Disney film “Enchanted.” When she was growing up in East Lansing,
she appreciated professional dancers who took the time to work with her, and
now tries to give back in a similar way.

On Aug. 5 and 7, Bentley
will teach classes at the Ruhala Dance Center, which is owned by her mentor and
friend, Mark Ruhala. Ruhala said he and Carol both have an interest in bringing
Broadway-caliber professionalism to the local amateur dance scene, and it is a
mutual desire for her to come and teach at his studio.

“There are definitely young
dancers out there who would like to make it to Broadway,” he said. “To have
someone experienced like myself or Carol in town teaching is a great advantage
for them, because they’re learning from someone who has already accomplished
the dream that they have.”

Bentley makes an effort to
come back and teach aspiring dancers often; she said she loves to teach and is
grateful that Ruhala has the outlet for her to do so. She wants to share her
experiences on Broadway, but she also wants to simply share the joy and art of
dancing with anyone who is interested, because she understands that not
everyone dances with the aim of going into it professionally.

For those who do have
visions of fame on Broadway, she hopes to be able to offer some advice to help
them the way she was mentored when she was just beginning her career. She said
in one past class, a girl asked her what a typical New York audition would be
like, so she put her through a mock audition. Later, she said she received an
email from the girl thanking her for the realistic experience that prepared her
for real auditions.

Bentley has done “a little
bit of everything instead of a lot of one thing,” with experience in movies,
TV, Broadway and tours.

“I feel like that affords me
to share with other students now a pretty wide range of how things are done and
what they can expect and what is expected of them,” she said.

“I want to share the sense
of fun and adventure that comes with it, but also the amount of work there is.
If you can approach the work with a sense of fun, it makes it that much more
special. (Dancing in New York) is a very special experience. You feel the sense
that so many people hope to do this and if you get to be one of the people that
get to do it, it’s a special thing.”