Friday, January 11, 2013

The Irish Dancers' Miss America: Catching up with Betty Thompson

This time last year, Irish dancers worldwide were cheering for Betty Thompson, Miss Oklahoma, as she competed on the Miss America stage. With style, grace, and a fabulous Irish dance for her talent, Betty finished first runner up to Miss America 2012. Although Betty didn't end up taking home the Miss America crown, she certainly won the hearts of Irish dancers in the states and across the globe. After her success at Miss America, Betty returned to the feis circuit and qualified for the 2013 World Championships in Boston. Lucky for us, she took some time out of her very busy schedule to answer some questions for her adoring fans.
Betty and Miss America 2012, Laura Kaeppeler,
waiting for the winning results to be announced.   
On My Toes Blog: In less than a calendar year, you've not only placed first runner up to Miss America 2012, but also qualified for the 2013 World Championships of Irish Dance. Did you ever imaging reaching those two milestones so close to one another?

Betty Thompson: Certainly not! When I decided to get serious about capturing the Miss Oklahoma title, I decided it was time to hang up my competition shoes. However, after I crowned the new Miss Oklahoma in June it hit me that I didn’t currently have something I was striving to achieve (aside from my degree at OSU {Oklahoma State University}) and I didn’t like that realization. Ever since I began competing in Irish dance at the age of 12 I have been working towards a goal, and then my goal became Miss America. I decided in mid-August to start dancing again for exercise and a week after that made the decision to compete in the Oklahoma Feis. I borrowed a dress and had so much fun competing again that I decided to go on to the Oireachtas. Two and a half short months later I found myself on the SRO {Southern Region Oireachtas} stage and loved every moment of it. Of course I wanted to qualify for the Worlds, but I wasn’t sure if I had been back long enough for it to happen! I’m beyond excited and feeling so blessed.

A vision in white on the Miss America stage:
Betty in her Johnathan Kayne evening gown
OMTB: You dazzled us in a custom Johnathan Kayne gown at Miss America this year, and have recently been spotted at the Southern Region Oireachtas in a new Gavin Doherty solo costume. How involved are you in the design process of these fabulous dresses?

BT: I was very involved in the design of my talent costume for Miss Oklahoma and Miss America. Jonathan Kayne is so much fun to work with and he really captures your personality and is able to portray that in his designs. I gave him a basic idea of what I wanted (high neck, emerald green and a form fitting bodice), he envisioned and created something far more beautiful than my expectations! I was THRILLED that Gavin Doherty agreed to make my solo dress for SRO, especially on such short notice. I think what makes a Gavin dress so wonderful is that his ideas and creativity are endless. I didn't want to restrict that in any way. I just told him I wanted something modern, appropriate for a senior lady and the colors I had worn in the past. As with Kayne, the end result was amazing and I can’t wait to wear it in Boston!

Looking stunning in her new Gavin after securing her spot at Worlds!
Southern Region Oireachtas 2012
OMTB: Fake tan, loads of makeup, and massive wigs can give people the wrong impression about Irish dancers. What does your feis-look say about you?

BT: My feis look says you get what you see, which was the same impression I wanted to give on the Miss America stage. I’m blessed to have olive skin so I stay naturally tan year round-for that reason I don’t have to wear fake tan. I do wear more makeup on stage than I would on an average day, but I certainly don’t take it to an extreme. I also wear a bun wig versus a full wig. I just feel that as a senior lady it’s a little softer and since I’m so petite I don’t feel like my face gets lost in the curls! Not to mention that I could use all the help in the height department that I can get. :-)

Betty with Rebekah Roberts, McTeggart TCRG, after her
success at the Southern Region Oireachtas
OMTB: Do you have any tips for looking put-together on stage at a feis or major competition?

BT: One of the biggest similarities between competing in Irish dance and competing in a pageant is the stage presence. My dance teacher, Maureen McTeggart Hall, instilled in me at a young age that confidence on stage was key. The way I held my body and head said a lot about my belief in my own ability. Having that confident look on stage no matter what you’re competing in draws attention!

OMTB: You've already competed at Worlds numerous times, and brought home an All-Ireland's medal. Do you have any goals for this year's competition?

BT: I would love to medal at Worlds this year. I have a lot of work to do in the next few months and I feel like I’m behind my competition already in preparation time but I no longer believe that anything is impossible with hard work. It’s one of the main reasons I came back, that goal you just can’t let go of!

Betty's talent, set to "Warriors" from Lord of the Dance,
earned a Preliminary Talent Award at Miss America 2012
OMTB: How did your talent choreography in Miss America influence your performance style when you began competing in feiseanna again?

BT: It was actually a really hard adjustment! I became accustomed to the dramatic affect of my talent at Miss OK and Miss America (thanks to my incredible choreographer, Jason Hays, McTeggart North TX), being able to “play” with the audience and ultimately getting a standing ovation at the end of almost all of my performances in a pageant ....and I had to remember that’s NOT reality for a competitive Irish dancer! The judges at Oireachtas and Worlds are not “wowed” by my performance like the Miss America judges and audience were and they are literally picking apart my every move. It’s back to strictly Irish dancing technique!

Something tells me Betty knows core
strength is great for Irish dancing! 
OMTB: Prepping for Miss America vs. Worlds: will you practice more for Worlds? How will your preparations change?

BT: That’s a tough comparison simply because when you take on the job of Miss Oklahoma, you drop EVERYTHING else. No school, no job. Your job IS Miss Oklahoma, multiple appearances (3-5) on a daily basis and preparing for Miss America in off-time. There were multiple phases to prepare for and that made it difficult at times. However, in preparing for Worlds, I feel more pressure than I did in preparing for Miss A. I’m back in school taking 17 hrs, working in the marketing department of the Oklahoma State University Foundation, continuing to travel the country for appearances and speaking engagements and finally making time to train for Worlds! It’s certainly a struggle, but where there’s a will there’s a way! :-)

OMTB: Why should Irish dancers compete in the Miss America Organization? How can they get involved?

BT: The Miss America Organization is the world’s leading scholarship provider for women making available over $4 mil in scholarship every year. The need for scholarship is what drew me to the pageant scene my sophomore year of college and in my short time competing in Miss Oklahoma and Miss America, I've been awarded over $90,000 in scholarships! But the other major perk to competing is that you get to share your talent and love of Irish dancing while promoting it! I've been thrilled by the dozens of messages I received post Miss America about little girls beginning in Irish dance because they watched me on TV!

Thank you, Betty, for giving us a little insight into your journey as Miss Oklahoma and in Irish dance. Irish dancers are lucky to have such a beautiful, intelligent, and talented young woman representing us all. We'll be rooting for you at Worlds this year! 

Don't forget to tune into Miss America, airing this Saturday, January 12th at 9:00pm est. on ABC! 

Keep Dancing,

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