Rapid City teen Mary Vallette’s passion for dance is taking her to the next level.

Tina Vallette never planned on her daughter, Mary, taking such a passionate interest in dance. “When I first signed her up, it was recreational. We lived in Nebraska, out in the country, and needed something to do,” she says with a laugh. “It was a way to mingle with other people.” 

Mary, who turned 13 on August 11, has moved well past the mingling stage. She has been dancing since the age of two, mostly contemporary and lyrical, with hip-hop, tap, and ballet to help with her technique. All that hard work is paying off; currently in her fourth year at Barefoot Dance Studio in Rapid City, Mary was nominated for Dancer of the Year in the national finals for her solo in the Celebration Dance competition, facing off against students from 10 other dance studios around the country. 

“That was really exciting, honestly,” the bubbly teen says. “Not a lot of people get to do competition; when you get a really big award like that, you feel like you’re actually good!”

Eclipsing even that achievement were invitations for Mary to train with the Colorado Ballet in Denver this summer and participate in an intensive four-week training course with the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Mary has the distinction of being the first girl ever selected from South Dakota to attend the latter camp.

Both opportunities have kept Mary busy throughout the summer, but despite the fact that she was away from friends and family for an extended period, she considers the experience well worth the sacrifice. At Perry-Mansfield, she took three core classes and two electives, immersing herself in a mix of modern, ballet, contemporary, and improvisational dance. She got to work with top-notch choreographers like Maya Taylor, who was nominated for a VMA award while Mary was there, and enjoyed meeting new people from all over the country. Her two-week stint with the Colorado Ballet was, naturally, more ballet-focused; she worked with different teachers to learn a variety of styles, practicing ballet for two hours and pointe for 90 minutes every day. 

All told, Mary put in more than 400 hours of practice in two months, dedicating about 48 hours per week toward dance. That torrid pace continued in August with a six-day convention and dance classes in Washington, D.C. Mary started 8th grade at Stagebarn Middle School and her practice time has since dropped to 12 hours a week, which is still a significant investment in time when you factor in demands like schoolwork. No problem for Mary, who often completes her homework in the dance studio or on the drive over and still manages to maintain a 4.0 GPA—an accomplishment mom Tina can’t help but feel proud of. 

Devoting so much time to dancing isn’t without its sacrifices. One of the biggest is maintaining friendships. “You have people you want to keep in your life,” Mary says, “but you can’t because you have dance.”

Despite this, she has no regrets. She thrives on the energy performing in front of others brings and can’t imagine a life without dance. If forced to pursue a different career path, she’d like to be an author or a singer, or perhaps do theater. 

Even though dance was originally intended to be nothing more than a recreational activity for Mary, Tina fully supports her daughter’s endeavor and is a little in awe of her talent. When asked what advice she would offer parents of kids who want to pursue dance, she doesn’t hesitate for a second.

“Listen to their dancer. Help them reach their dreams as much as they can. Let them try out for everything and anything.”

Tina Vallette

Mary’s dreams center around a professional career in dance. She’d like to join an established dance company or start her own. Ideally, she would love to open a dance studio and help other young dancers pursue their own passions. One person who won’t be following in her footsteps is eight-year old sister, Elissa, who prefers basketball to dance. 

Mary has some advice of her own for those who do aspire to become dancers.

“Work hard,” Mary says. “Don’t give up, even if you hear people say you aren’t strong or flexible enough. Look at Misty Copeland, the first African-American dancer (to be promoted to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre). She worked hard to get to where she is now. Always work as hard as you can to follow your dreams!”