by Alexander Roberts –
They came to the United States with $2,000 and a dream.
Dancing partners since the ages of 15 and 13 in the Ukraine, Sasha and Olga Bylim achieved worldwide recognition in 1989 when they were invited to represent the Soviet Union in a ballroom dancing competition. However, their trip to Toronto, Canada made an indelible impression on them with the promise of freedom. They married and continued to compete successfully on a world stage, but despite establishing a successful school in their hometown of Poltava, they eventually found the lure of the West too strong. When their daughter Olesya was born in 1993, they made the decision to immigrate to New York and did so in 1996.
“We wanted her to have a better life,” said Olga, “in a free country with no limits — where a person is rewarded for what they do.”
Starting Own Studio in Tarrytown
On July 6, 1999, they opened their first studio on a second-floor space that had been vacant for 20 years at 15 North Broadway in Tarrytown. One of their first students was Linda Accocella, a nurse from Yonkers.
“I knew they were special from the first time they came to this country. They were not only world class performers and teachers, they always had a non-judgmental attitude and genuinely cared about their students,” she said. “You can’t fake that.”
The studio prospered enormously as Sasha and Olga rode the wave of popularity of ballroom dancing, especially due to the television show, “Dancing with the Stars.” Nearly 10 years ago, they moved to a larger space at 358 North Broadway in Sleepy Hollow. Today, with 120 active students, Fred Astaire Tarrytown ranks among the top 10 revenue-producing studios out of 175 Fred Astaire franchises in the nation. Sasha is the Co-National Dance Director, and Olga ranks as the #2 female coach in the Fred Astaire Dance Studios of North America.
A Nurturing Environment
Counted among the American champions of ballroom dancing, the pair has also hired professional teachers who reflect their competence and caring attitude. Many come from Poltava, and they form a tight-knit community who can be seen together on weekends enjoying Tarrytown’s newly renovated Pierson Park and RiverWalk Park.
Caron Johnson, who started taking lessons at the studio 15 years ago and commutes from Manhattan, said, “Ballroom dancing provides an escape from the world because dancing requires your full attention. I come to the Tarrytown Fred Astaire because of the nurturing environment created by Sasha and Olga.”
“I was dragged kicking and screaming to learn a few steps for my daughter’s wedding in 2012,” said Larry Markowitz, a Manhattan attorney. “But it changed my life. I lost 30 pounds and actually began competing.” (Fred Astaire Tarrytown brings students to three national events, joining hundreds of students to dance, compete and enjoy their sport.)
Each year, Markowitz and about 30 other students, who dance with their instructors, put on a showcase at the Tarrytown Music Hall to a sold-out crowd.
Asked why ballroom dancing has become so popular, Olga emphasized the sheer fun and challenge. “Ballroom dancing combines the physical, creative, spiritual and social aspects of life. When you exercise at the gym, you can still think about work. You can’t do that in ballroom dancing.”
Sasha, who now oversees three Fred Astaire franchises on Long Island, agreed. “Yes, it is a business, but our greatest pleasure is to watch our students experience real joy and leave with a smile on their face,” he said.