Olivia Cece’s Career Is Carrying On the Legacy of Her Beloved Late Dance Teacher
June 20, 2024

Growing up, Olivia Cece had big aspirations for her career, but Broadway wasn’t one of them. For one thing, she didn’t sing or act. In fact, she didn’t know anything about the world of musical theater. But when her shot at winning Season 11 of “So You Think You Can Dance” slipped through her fingers, her dance teacher Bette-Ann Rossi used the loss as a chance to light a new fire. “I know this is your dream, but I really think you’re going to be on Broadway someday,” said Rossi, whom dancers affectionately called “Miss Bette.” As it turns out, she was prophetic. Cece has gone on to have a thriving career on Broadway. In fact, you can catch her in Heart of Rock and Roll on Broadway right now! 

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Cece spent the majority of her training at Atwood Performing Arts Center. There, she met Rossi, a woman who would become the most important teacher in her life. After spotting Cece at a middle school talent show, Rossi invited the 7-year-old to dance at her studio. “It was a great school with amazing training,” Cece says. “Miss Bette [was a ballroom dancer known for her old-school jazz classes. She was phenomenal.” 

During her senior year of high school, Rossi told Cece she had cancer. “She told me to meet her at the studio early so it would be just us. Then, she showed me her hair falling out and said, ‘Miss Bette’s got a little bit of cancer.’ ” It was stage four, and just four months later, Rossi passed away. “She told me that I was one of her proudest accomplishments—it was one of the last things I remember her saying to me,” Cece says. Before her passing, Rossi gave Cece a necklace with a small bird on it. “She said I was her free spirit. She told me to go off and fly and do all the things that she and I had planned. I got that bird tattooed on my hand.” 

Bette-Ann Rossi with her students. Photo courtesy CeCe.

And fly she has. Cece earned her BFA in the commercial dance program at Pace University. While there she expanded her training to singing and acting, and built relationships with major choreographers in Los Angeles and New York City. Through her senior showcase, she signed with Clear Talent and started working straight after graduation. Her first job was American Dance Spectacular, with Al Blackstone, followed by dancing on “Saturday Night Live” with Miley Cyrus (choreographed by Nick Kenkel). “Those jobs felt like gifts to me as I crossed the bridge from student to pro dancer,” Cece says. From there, her career took off. Her film and TV credits include Disney’s “Better Nate Than Never” and Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Big City Adventure,” and her theater credits include Kaylee in the first national tour of The Prom, the 5-week workshop of Andy Blankenbuehler’s Only Gold, the first national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Moulin Rouge! The Musical on Broadway. “I was asked to come in and do [Moulin Rouge] for a quick three weeks in December 2022, and I just never really left.” That is, until February 2024, when Cece booked her current job in the original cast of Broadway’s Heart of Rock and Roll.

On booking Heart of Rock and Roll: “My entire audition was done in one day. They had us do a full ’80s jazz technique combo with some stepping as well as some improv before they made a cut. Then they asked me to stay for partnering before they made another cut, and I was asked to stay and sing. I sang some Stevie Nicks for them and left feeling really great about it all. I even wore clothes from my own ’80s-inspired dancewear line with Ilogear: a high-cut leotard with a bandeau-style sports bra and flared pants over it. 

“I didn’t hear anything for four weeks before I got an email from my agent saying I was still in the mix. My mom said she would pray for me, and if it was meant to be, it would be. The following weekend, I got the call from my agent. The office was about to close, but she didn’t want me to have to wait. ‘You’re going to be in the original cast of Heart of Rock and Roll,’ she said. I was absolutely thrilled.” 

On the impact of Rossi: “Miss Bette will always hold the biggest place in my heart and in my life for many reasons. I spent more time at the studio than I did at home. My family was going through different challenges at one point, and the studio was my rock. Miss Bette was a strong, solid figure in my life, and the studio was the place I felt most seen and comfortable. She not only trained me and gave me everything I could need as a dancer, but she was a role model to me as a woman. We had a beautiful friendship. If I could have one person out there watching me right now, it would absolutely be her. I remember, while doing Moulin Rouge, I would look out to the audience and sing “Come What May,” and I would get emotional picturing her there, seeing what she envisioned, come to life.”

On her dreams for the future: I would love to continue to be part of new shows and processes in theater. I love the creative collaboration that I have found in this show, and hope to do more of that. I’d also love to originate some sort of principal track that really highlights dancers. Beyond performing, I’d love to use my leadership and business experience to direct or run a program. I have my degree, and I’d like to go back and get my master’s. I could see myself running a school like Pace or something someday. It would be so cool to give back and share the things I wish I had more of when I was in school.”

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