INSPIRING: A twenty-something Maryann Bentley applies make-up to dance student Rebecca Malloy. Maryann has been teaching Casino kids to dance for the past 45 years.
INSPIRING: A twenty-something Maryann Bentley applies make-up to dance student Rebecca Malloy. Maryann has been teaching Casino kids to dance for the past 45 years. Contributed

Life of dance inspires generations

THEY say the love of dance is for life, but there are few who can maintain a passion to teach the art for as long as Casino's Maryann Bentley.

Born the youngest of six siblings, and the only girl, Maryann was encouraged to dance and embraced it with as much vigour as her brothers had for football.

Shared with her mother

Dance was something Maryanne was able to share with her mother, Jean Swift, who found the diversion from washing football jerseys a pleasant one.

"My brothers would go off and play sport and my mother and I could be together, dancing," Maryann recalled.

In fact, Maryann and her mother worked together in dance for the rest of Jean's life.

Encouraged by grandmothers

From the tender age of five, Maryann began her life's passion, encouraged by her mum's mum Flo Hollyman, who taught Highland dancing, and by her father's mother who was a music teacher.

Her first teacher was Vera Tyler and then Wendy Kennedy, with whom she studied ballet and tap over 10 years.

As jazz became more popular, those steps were incorporated into the standard routine.

Opened her studio

After she left school, and started work at Pinkerton's Jewellers, she longed to start a dance school of her own and when she voiced that desire to her boss she was reluctantly allowed to take Saturday mornings off work to open a studio.

The Casino Dance Academy went on to be the focus of many young girls and boys over the years. Maryann has taught three generations in some local families. And throughout, Maryann's mother Jean worked right beside her daughter until she passed away in 2008.

"She was my backbone," recalled Maryann. "We had a great partnership."

Next generation

Maryann's daughter Renae Chelman is now a big part of the academy, arranging choreography for competitions in jazz and tap, and bringing another generation into the world of dance.

For a country girl, the art of dance plays a large role in their development.

"Posture and confidence are important," said Maryann. When dancing we think of head, and feet, and shoulders, and face.

"This, along with the fact that the dancers have to be involved with teamwork, gives my students a lot of confidence."

Success stories

There have been some great success stories that originated at the Casino academy: former student Georgie King is now a teacher of dance and is loved, in turn, by all her students.

Matthew Trent left Casino at the age of 14 to study at the Royal Academy in London and later became the principal with the Australian Ballet.

Now he lives in New York and is a personal assistant to ballet great Christopher Wheeldon and follows his other passion - photography.

Presently working as a professional dancer in South Korea is ex-student Sophie McAuliffe, while Megan O'Shea has just finished touring with the Rocky Horror stage show.

Hoping to follow in their footsteps is student Lisa Hegedus, who has successfully auditioned for a position at Dance Force Academy on the Gold Coast as a full-time student for the next two years.

This year Lisa received more than 30 first places and numerous seconds and thirds throughout the Northern Rivers at dance festivals.

"They start with us and we give them the confidence and passion," said Maryann. "And a good grounding."



VIDEO: Scuba diver saves 2m shark from 'terrible death'

VIDEO: Scuba diver saves 2m shark from 'terrible death'

"I fought my fear... the shark was moving violently”

Woman plucked from crumbling cliff by volunteers

Woman plucked from crumbling cliff by volunteers

"She was scared that if she moved she’d fall down the cliff face"

25 extra firefighters coming to help battle bushfire

25 extra firefighters coming to help battle bushfire

Bushfire near Casino listed as "out of control"

Local Partners