When Kaley Etheridge (‘13) made it her mission to teach children the many forms of dance, she opened Southern Grace Dance Company in September 2017.
She started dancing when she was 3 years old, starting with ballet and continuing into other dance forms like jazz and tap. She knew it was her passion from the beginning but didn’t realize she wanted to teach until much later.
When she was 17, Etheridge started teaching a jazz dancing class for middle schoolers, and that eventually progressed into other age groups and dance forms.
This was when she realized she was passionate about teaching, but there was a lot of uncertainty about her future. She was curious if she wanted to pursue college after graduating from Lakeland Christian School.
“My senior year of high school, I was trying to decide if I was going to college, basically trying to figure out my life and what I wanted to do,” Etheridge said. “I decided that I was going to take a gap year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
The gap year turned into four years. Etheridge decided that college wasn’t the path she wanted to take, so she started teaching at a dance studio full-time and taught a large portion of the classes there.
The owner offered her the studio, but she declined because she was still uncertain about what she wanted to do. It closed soon after, but the experience she gained there would aid her later.
She tried cosmetology school for a year and did well at the practice, but she missed teaching kids how to dance.
With the help of her family and their business enterprises, she opened her dance studio and began teaching with one other instructor. She also credits God for guiding her toward fulfilling her passion, the same passion that enabled her to open her studio.
“I always think God used that year to push me into His plan for me. That was the kind of fire he lit under me and the passion for opening a dance studio and taking those steps,” Etheridge said. “I think it took God putting me in an uncomfortable place for me to take the step forward.”
When Etheridge was looking for a property for her studio, many families reached out asking where she was teaching. The families and their children wanted to follow her wherever she went.
Three months after moving into the building, the
first classes of Southern Grace Dance Company were conducted, and she started a two-year business plan under her grandfather’s advice, who has business experience. Within the first year, Etheridge surpassed her studio’s two-year business goal.
“God just blessed us immensely, and we didn’t even take a loss that year,” Etheridge said. “He definitely blew my mind with the number of students we got.”
Southern Grace surpassed their expectations again in their second year.
According to Etheridge, God blessed her company
to exceed her expectations, even through trial and tribulation. Every year, they made a profit, and more children started filling her classes with more instructors.
Her dance studio was thriving with exponential growth each year until 2020, when the pandemic hit the U.S. They resorted to online classes that didn’t make as much profit, but it was enough to keep the business afloat.
Her biggest worry was that COVID was going to affect her studio like it did many other businesses around the country. But they resumed classes as normal as they could in September 2020, and they even held their recital. After Southern Grace resumed its classes after COVID, there was a massive flood that damaged the property beyond repair. Etheridge’s landlords offered a new property that was twice as big and is the current location of her studio.
“Our mission at Southern Grace Dance Company is to share and instill a love for dance in our students through superior instruction with grace and integrity,” Etheridge said. “We believe that the discipline taught in dance classes should be that which can be applied to our students’ lives and grow them not only as dancers but as individuals.”
Etheridge is an alumnus of Lakeland Christian School, and many of her dancers are students at LCS. She credits LCS for teaching her how to include God in every aspect of her life, especially giving her the strength to manage her dance studio through every adversity.
“I also wanted to create opportunities for my other dancers to serve and give back to the community by loving others who may not be like them,” Etheridge said. “My goal has always been to not only help my students become beautiful dancers but beautiful people by helping mold and encourage their hearts and character.”
That commitment has led Kayley to some God-ordained opportunities to specifically pour into students with special needs and disabilities. “We’ve welcomed young dancers into our classes who have had spina bifida, prosthetic limbs, brain cancer/injuries, and autism,” Etheridge said. “Our young dancers with disabilities have integrated beautifully into our classes and it’s brought so much joy to my heart to see how the other dancers have welcomed them and loved them just the same!”
Those students perform in the recitals, and Etheridge said their is “not a dry eye in the audience” when those moments take place. The Southern Grace Dance Company currently teaches a wide variety of dancing forms such as tap, jazz, hip-hop, and ballet to its nearly 300 students. If you would like to learn more about what Southern Grace Dance Studio offers, please visit souherngracedanceco.com.