Tam Bui knows a thing or two about perspective. A late bloomer, Tam didn’t start ice skating until he was 20 years old, and it wasn’t until he was 35 that he started dancing and learning aerial arts. Now Tam is a champion figure skater, dancer, and a circus aerialist.
At the age of 42, Tam is a tremendous inspiration to everyone around him. Coming from incredibly humble beginnings – with seemingly everything working against him except for his iron will to pursue his dream of becoming a pro skater – Tam found support, acceptance, and a second family in the adult skating community. Now, Purely Inspired is thrilled to be adding Tam to its family as the inspirational figure skater has agreed to a 1-year partnership with the accessible, plant-focused health and wellness brand.
Tam recently took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about how he successfully juggles (pun intended!) his skating, dancing, and circus careers—among other things! He also shares his wisdom around the power of kindness and perseverance.
Q: You just moved to LA! How are you liking it so far?
“I love it. The gas prices are so high and the traffic is horrible (laughing), but I love it here because growing up, I didn’t have an Asian community around me. I wanted to be around more Asian people and now I finally have the opportunity.”
Q: You’re a figure skater, dancer, and circus performer! That’s seriously impressive. Which came first and how did you get started?
A: “Skating came first – I started when I was 20 years old. I went to public skating, and I tried hockey, and I didn’t like that. I hate the smell of hockey locker rooms. (Laughing) I liked that figure skating is more physically and mentally challenging.
Growing up, we were slaves where I come from in Vietnam. I didn’t even have clothes to wear as a kid. We were so poor, I just got to school and did the best I could with my family to survive. Once I got to college and started working, that’s when I got introduced to skating and being able to play sports.”
Q: How did dancing and circus performing come into play afterwards?
A: “Dancing and circus performing started when I was 35. I met a ballet instructor while doing choreography for the dancing portion of skating. He invited me to learn ballet. And then when I went to the US Championship in Cape Cod, I met the first aerialist ever to perform on ice. She introduced me to aerial because I asked her, ‘As an adult skater, what are the chances of me getting into a big show with all the big name skaters?’ She said I needed a specialty act in order to compete in shows with all the younger skaters that are still doing triples and still have so much talent. That’s how I got into circus performing, and I continued ballet, performing in The Nutcracker, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Swan Lake, and more.”
Q: Wow! All that and you teach, as well?
A: “Yes. So before every show, we have an hour-long seminar where we teach all levels of skating—from spinning to jumping to body movement. And I coach here and there as a private coach.”
Q: As a teacher and mentor, you understand the influence you have on younger skaters. You were bullied growing up. How did you overcome that obstacle and what advice would you offer young people that are in the same position as you once were?
A: “I got beat up at class, at lunch, walking home—all of that. I got used to it. My life growing up was getting picked on every single day. Both my sister and I graduated early to avoid getting bullied every day. The bullying continued in skating, because, again, they don’t feel like you’re good enough.
The thing about bullying is that even if you don’t win, you want to stand up to them. When you stand up to them, it shows that you’re not someone they can easily push over. You will fight for it and they will respect you. With bullying, there are certain situations where you can get help. If you can talk to your family, friends, or anyone that can help you, do it.
For me, my support system actually came from other adult skaters. They’ve probably been in my situation because I just talked to a person from Pasadena who went through the exact same thing that I went through in his skating career because he didn’t start until he was 17. But now he is the head honcho who writes the rulebook for all the testing and all the development for the ice-skating school of the entire world!
The thing about it is that there’s good karma out there. And when you put good things in the universe and be a kind person, good things come back. It doesn’t always come back when you want it, but it does come back to you in a different form, in a different way, and at different times when you don’t expect it. The outcome for me is that I’m so grateful to have the opportunity now to come out of all of that and be able to tour with all these legendary skaters and to make a name for myself.”
Q: Tell us about your fitness routine. Aside from skating, dancing, and circus performing, do you do any other forms of fitness?
A: “I swim four days a week, I skate two days a week, and I used to weightlift, but now that I have metal in my legs and a fractured spine [from an aerial performance accident last year], I don’t anymore. So now it’s swimming and skating.”
Q: What does a typical day look like for you? What do you do from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night?
A: “My morning starts at 8 a.m. I get ready to go to work [as a nail technician] because it’s a 12-hour shift, five days a week to survive in California, of course. I work from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then it’s about a 45 minute to an hour drive to get back to my neighborhood where I swim at the gym until 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. I go home, have dinner, work on my computer, and then watch a little bit of TV and go to bed. On my day off, I’m usually either teaching or training myself.”
Q: You mentioned dinner, do you enjoy cooking or are you more of a take-out person? And what’s a typical meal for you?
A: “I love cooking and I love baking. For dinner, I love rice, pork, beef, shrimp, and pickles. My favorite thing to eat in the world is pickles. I’ve got to have pickles!” (Laughing)
Q: You have a very busy schedule and not a lot of downtime—what do you do recharge and reset?
A: “This right here [shows his shaker cup of Healthy Beets+ powder mixed in water with a little honey]. I also like to add the beets to a smoothie with peanut butter, banana, strawberry, and a little bit of honey. It’s really good. So, if I have this, I drink it throughout the day.”
Q: Do you have any wellness practices that you swear by? For example, do you meditate?
A: “Breathing, stretching and yoga. For me, I consider it a ‘vacation’ when I’m on the ice by myself and I turn on my music. When I put on my own music, I am literally in my own space, and I just move. To me, that’s my vacation. I feel so at peace, no matter how stressed I am. I could be crying at home, but once I get to the rink, I put on music and start skating. Everything else just disappears.”
Q: What’s next for Tam? What can we expect to see from you and your many talents in the future?
A: “A new social media channel and a vlog that’ll feature calisthenics at the beach, roller skating around California, ice skating at different places, and my practices. When I’m on tour, it will be backstage rehearsals. I want to show people that for someone my age, I can still do it. And if you work hard at it, you can be successful—and don’t give up. Never give up and live life to the fullest.”