With the lights turned down low and to the tune of Surfin’ USA, a man in a lifeguard outfit comes walking out, looking around. All of a sudden, a tall shark comes out and they begin to dance to Baby Shark. Their dancing knows no limitations, dancing to three different versions of the song and even doing multiple lifts, all the while in the shark costume. So who is this mysterious couple who are expanding into the mesmerizing world of the Baby Shark craze?
Before Baby Shark, Travis and Jaimee Tuft were just two teenagers at a Youth ballroom summer camp in Idaho. During this time, they were strictly acquaintances with Jaimee stating “It was like ‘hey, there’s that kid from last summer.” In college, they were reunited while on the touring dance company team at Brigham Young University. However, it was truly Jaimee’s math skills that sealed the deal, with Travis explaining“Jaimee actually majored in math and I was horrible at math, so she would tutor me, and that’s how I tricked her into dating me.” Jaimee chimed in “I worked at the math lab at BYU. I was an administrative assistant, organizing the math lab while also tutoring. So Travis would come into the math lab and I was just helping everybody, because the math lab had a rule that you have to help someone and then help the next person, but obviously because I knew him, sometimes I would help him with two problems instead of just one.”
They also had an unusual situation in that they got married before they started dancing with one another. Travis says, “We got married and we were dancing with different people. Then we realized, well we both dance, so after we got married we decided yeah let’s try dancing, but it was only after we got married.” Jaimee added that “We’re a little bit unusual in the sense that most people dance together and then go ‘hey I like hanging out with you, let’s date!,’ but we’re the opposite. We dated, then got married, and THEN started dancing with each other. It’s kind of an interesting adjustment all at once, getting married and having a new dance partnership and going to school all at once, it’s a big transition. It was a lot to take on all at once, that’s for sure!”
Since they have been together for a long time, they have some advice when it comes to how to make a partnership last. For them, it all comes down to two words: respect and communication. Travis elaborated “Respect and communication really go a long way. With communication comes patience. Patience for yourself and patience for your partner. Respect is also the same way, respect for yourself as well as your partner. Those things can be difficult, but I think in the end if you both have the same goal, you can definitely make it work.” Jaimee re-iterated that idea “Definitely communication! You have to be able to communicate your goals to one another and always be checking in on those goals. You have to make sure that your goals are headed in the same direction, because if one of you starts to become unhappy, and you wait too long before you start to address that problem, your lives separate into two different paths. If that happens, it’s a lot harder to come back together and have that common goal to keep working towards together as a happy, successful partnership.”
As a successful partnership, they have accomplished many feats including being the 2x United States Amateur American Smooth Champions, U.S. Professional Rising Star American Smooth Champions, 4x U.S. Professional Theatrical Champions, and 2x World Professional Cabaret Champions. However when asked what accomplishment they are most proud of, Jaimee says “The thing that we want to be most proud of is to help inspire others to follow their passion. Obviously, because we’re in dance, I hope we inspire lots of kids to keep dancing, so that we have a continuation of a strong dance community, but above and beyond that I hope we inspire people to just follow their journey in any capacity. We never anticipated that we would be professional dancers let alone successful professional dancers, but because we followed our passion and took a risk, it paid off and I hope it inspires other people to also do that for themselves.” Travis continued and said “We do appreciate our list of achievements, but I think sometimes those achievements can be fairly small in relation to who we are. I don’t think those make us who we are. The things that make us proud are the character and behavior of who we are as people. We hope that we acting in a way that is professional and encouraging of others.”
They also had some advice for younger dancers who may want to turn professional in the future. Jaimee says, “The best advice that we ever got and the things that really helped us was to find a mentor. To me, a mentor is a little bit different than somebody who is a coach. You might have coaches that are helping you to become better dancers but for us it always comes back to having that mentor that you can go back to and say ‘hey someone gave me this advice, do you think that’s good advice for me?’ You have to find somebody who is that core person who you can really trust and you feel like you can be very vulnerable with to really let your guard down. They know who you are, they know your goals, they know what you’re after and they know if an idea is something that will help you in that direction. They’ll give you that outside viewpoint and outside guidance. It’s someone who will say, ‘that’s good advice, and maybe it works for other people, but for you, I don’t think that’s good.’ You have to trust that they have your best interest in mind. It can be hard to find, but the sooner you do find and connect with that person, the better they’ll help you to focus on your journey. It’ll also be easier to achieve your best success. People always say success level is different and that’s ok, but a mentor is someone that helps YOU reach YOUR level of success.” Travis also included that “They help to focus you and push you. They might not do everything for you, and maybe they’re not the best showman or they might not be the best technician, but it doesn’t really matter what they’re best at, as long as they connect with you and can guide you.” The other thing to keep in mind is finding the right size practice space. Travis and Jaimee both explain “If you’re a smooth or a ballroom dancer, you need to have access to a big studio space regularly. If you’re a cabaret dancer, you need to have high ceilings, where you can regularly practice. If you’re latin or rhythm, you need to have a space where you feel safe going all out in. Finding a studio space that gives you what you need, gives you an energy and motivation to practice. It also gives you the right facility where you can maximize and really do everything all out, because if you don’t have a practice space like that, then you’re going to be at a disadvantage when you get to a competition.” The last piece of advice is to be teachable. Travis elaborated, “Allow yourself to be uncomfortable and open to suggestions. Be teachable. People come and ask us for advice on what to do as they move forward, but they try to strategize and try to already know the answer even as they’re asking for advice. It’s like they ask you for advice as if it’s a formality or wanting validation. You have to be confident in the decisions that you make, but people think you have to look and act a certain way in the competition field.The reality is when we started we tried to make a good educated guess on who would help us the best. Once we found that person, we said to them just act as if we know nothing. Tell us if we’re doing something wrong even if it’s the littlest most basic thing. For us, it’s important in having that openness to change. Success takes vulnerability. You have to really let your guard down so that you can try new things and put yourself out there.”
So the question that is burning on everyone’s mind: Where did the idea of Baby Shark come from? According to Jaimee, it all started with a burning desire to do a comedy routine and a t-rex costume, “We wanted to do a comedy number for a couple of years, because I think that comedy is one of the hardest genres to do in dance since it’s non-verbal. It’s hard to make something clever that will appeal to a lot of people in such a large venue is one of the most difficult things to do. We’ve been trying to a comedy number and every time, we’d work on the number, it just felt like we were trying too hard. Maybe a few people would laugh a little bit, but it wouldn’t be lasting or really impressionable.” This is where the t-rex costume comes into play, “This year we sat down to make our plan for number and we were just throwing out ideas. It started with the t-rex costumes that everyone sees all over the internet, but then that was too cliche, everybody is doing that, it wouldn’t be that unique. So then we found a shark, and we said we can dance to Baby Shark. From there, it spiraled out of control. It was the most fun we ever had creating something!” Travis chimed in and said “It kind of just made itself. We knew we didn’t just want to do the full version of the song, so then it was like ‘what other versions of the song are there?’ We found a lullaby version, a remix version, it kind of just came together really easily.” Although Travis and Jaimee are used to completing complicated tricks and lifts, the shark costume added an extra challenge. However, Jaimee was up for it, “I really could not see anything in that suit. Most of the time I couldn’t see anything so we practice A LOT, like an insane amount in the suit, so that I could use to doing lifts completely blind.”
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