Ballet academy

Full Circle: Dancers’ Orbit Leads Mountain View Ballet Academy to Thrive | Business

Megan V. Winslow / Town Crier
Rima Chaeff, left, with her mother Marion, who opened the academy in 1985.

While sharing the story of Pacific Ballet Academy in Mountain View, Marion Chaeff and her daughter, Rima, both used the ballet programs they attended or the class they taught as time stamps to ensure they spoke in chronological order.

That may be because the owners of the academy were asked about their business and the 33 years they’ve maintained it, but it’s become increasingly clear that no matter the topic, the conversation – and their lives – would always revolve around ballet.

Pacific Ballet Academy, located at 295 Polaris Ave., offers a full range of youth and adult dance options for ages 3½ and up, from pre-ballet to pre-professional training. Marion, founding director, and Rima, co-director, promote the philosophy that the quality of teaching is more important than the quantity.

A love – and a life – of dance

When Marion’s husband took a job with long hours for a long time, she returned to ballet. After having children and watching them grow, she returned to ballet. When Rima’s hearing loss, a lifelong struggle, deteriorated and prevented her from understanding her mother on the phone, she received a cochlear implant and returned to ballet.

“It’s a family business,” Marion said.

With her mother as her first ballet teacher, Rima said her love of dance and the family business only coalesced because Mation knew not to push her too far.

“She knew she had the power to ruin everything for me,” Rima said. “She was careful.

Marion was born in Astoria, Oregon, where there were no studios that offered classical ballet lessons, but the largely Scandinavian population held parties that offered folk dancing.

“Later, I watched a few movies that made me really interested in ballet, and I saw a live performance of ‘Swan Lake’ in Portland, and I thought, ‘You know, I want to be connected with it somehow. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Marion said.

Rather than follow her parents’ wishes that she attend a year of college at their expense, as her older sister did, Marion left home at 19 and studied with American Ballet Theater and the Ballets Russes in Denver, Dallas and New York.

“I should have taken the (courses) they wanted me to take,” Marion said of her parents. “But I told them I’d rather pursue ballet and, of course, that was ridiculous to them.”

In New York, Marion meets a Russian who is struggling to become an actor. Instead, he became her husband, with whom she had two children.

The Chaeffs realized when Rima was 2 that she was deaf. They moved to California, where school options would be better for their daughter. In New Jersey, where they lived at the time, the only option available to the hearing impaired was to send them to boarding school.

“My parents, luckily, decided they wanted me to learn speaking first rather than signing,” Rima said.

Marion used M&M’s to get her quiet daughter talking.

“I thought his little teeth were going to rot,” Marion said with a hearty laugh.

Rima attended a special school in Palo Alto until she auditioned for an art school in Vienna, Austria, and was offered a three-year scholarship. After returning to California, Rima danced with the San Jose Ballet before spending three years at the San Francisco Ballet School, where she performed in her “Nutcracker” and Student Showcase performances. At Pacific Ballet, the Chaeffs offer the same programs, with Showcase every spring.

Rima reflected the bravery her mother had shown in leaving home. She attended Chico State University and earned a degree in computer science after deciding that her deafness would probably be too big a barrier to pursuing a professional career as a ballerina—she often had feedback issues from her hearing aids when she was dancing in San Francisco.

After finding that the engineering field was less than self-sufficient before the boom of companies like Facebook and Google, Rima began to miss dancing and rehearsals. Her mother taught ballet at Blach Intermediate School in Los Altos, and the two opened Pacific Ballet Academy in 1985, with just a quarter of the property the burgeoning business occupies today. The academy now has four studios.

More than three decades later, Marion watches Rima pull her hair up – the only time her implant is visible – and orders the ballerinas she teaches to dance en pointe to the barre and examines each one’s shape. Describing herself as “very strict,” the young Chaeff walks around and adjusts the advanced dancers, whispering encores under the floating melody of the piano in the corner.

“I’ve been here long enough now that some of my former students are bringing their kids,” Rima said just before her class started. “Things have come full circle.”