Charlie Betts lived in Roseville, but his heart and home were on the ballroom dance floor.
For nearly 40 years, night after night, the award-winning dancer struck up friendships at Twin Cities area dance halls, developed his famous solo showcase numbers and willingly shared the techniques and exercises he had learned with those just starting out.
“He was an ambassador for ballroom dancing,” said Marcy McHenry, owner of Dancers Studio on Pascal Street in St. Paul, where Betts danced frequently.
Betts was never an instructor there, but “even as a student he’d act as the owner,” McHenry said. “He’d greet people and make them feel welcome and special.”
Betts was hit by a car and killed early Monday as he attempted to cross Snelling Avenue on foot at County Road B in Roseville. He was 79.
Although American rhythm was his favorite style, Betts danced to all styles of music. He’d match the music with creative choreography that sometimes broke the rules. The incredible amount of detail — everything from music to costuming — that he put into solo numbers, such as his medley from “West Side Story,” netted him several awards and trophies at local and national dance competitions.
He won the “Unforgettable Award” at the Twin Cities Open Ballroom Championships in 2004. The award’s inscription read: “In grateful acknowledgment of outstanding contributions to the art and sport of Ballroom Dancing in Minnesota.”
“Without question, Charlie exemplified that,” said Scott Anderson, a ballroom dance instructor with Megamarc Inc., which puts on the local ballroom championships. “When Charlie would perform at local studio events, or national competitions, he was always on time, courteous and dressed to the tee.”
As successful as he was, Betts brought out the best in others, too, said Jana Merten, an instructor from North Branch. She worked with Betts for the past 10 years. Merten credits him with helping her get her teaching career launched after the two met at Dancers Studio.
“He put full trust in me and was my star student,” Merten said. “He’d do the exercises and practice, then he’d go show other dancers what he had learned. He helped me develop my teaching methods.”
Betts was born in New York and was a standout baseball, tennis and soccer player at Avon Old Farms school in Connecticut. He served in the Navy for eight years and worked as an accountant and surveyor in Arizona before arriving in Minnesota in 1972. He went through treatment at Hazelden and was a member of the center’s Fellowship Club of St. Paul, said his daughter Sharon Stella Betts, of New York.
Charlie typically got up early to go out to breakfast, which might explain why he was out walking when he was struck at 5:10 a.m.
Stella Betts said her father was a benevolent man who donated to several charities. He also loved bowling and golf, and had a wide network of friends.
“He was one of those people who made friends wherever he went, the bank, the diner, the dance club,” his daughter said. “He had that kind of spirit.”
Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, Paul, and two grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768