Dancing to make Clarendon better
by Johnny Weeks | August 16, 2019 3:00 pm
Last Updated: August 16, 2019 at 8:47 am
Dixie Elliott, the owner and operator of Carolina Dance Academy, has been passionate in the art of dance since the age of three. After high school, she attended Winthrop University and obtained a degree in Dance Education.
“I remember as a college student driving home every weekend to teach a dance class at Miss Libby’s School of Dance in Sumter while all of the others would stay at Winthrop and enjoy their weekend,” said Elliott. “I vowed then to never teach a Saturday dance class if I ever fulfilled my dream of owning my own studio.” Elliott is trained in the art of tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop and contemporary, with an emphasis on both technique and performance. In 2012 after some hardships fell upon her family of six, Elliott decided to take the risk to earn some extra income and pursue her passion. She held her breath, said a prayer and opened Carolina Dance Academy.
Now in its 12th year of operation, Carolina Dance Academy offers something for everyone. Classes range from gymnastics, American Ninja Warrior, adult tap dance classes, all genres of dance and baton classes. Elliott jokes that she is “bringing baton back.”
One Sunday afternoon, Elliot looked down at her phone and saw a text from one of her students in the senior division. The student, Abbey Owens, has been a student at Carolina Dance Academy for twelve years. The text simply read “Mrs. Dixie, can we start a special needs dance program?” Owens had been in the car all afternoon that day with her family when the idea popped into her head for the program.
“I just felt it in my heart that we needed to have this in Clarendon County. In school, I have met lots of kids that aren’t just like me but still have great talent that should be showcased and coached,” said Owens. “I was on board immediately with the idea but knew I did not want to attempt this class without the proper training so I did some research and found Rhythm Works Integrative Dance.”
“When you have a teenager showing this initiative to help others, you just don’t tell them no,” said Elliott.
According to their website, Rhythm Works is a specialized but inclusive dance class for people with individual learning differences and other special needs. Elliott will take part in an eighteen hour certification course in order to be prepared to efficiently teach the students in her special needs class. Due to the training that Elliot will be participating in, the classes will not begin until October when she completes the required classes.
“I have taught a few students with special needs before but was unsure if there was enough interest for a full class,” said Elliott. “I will have to take several tests and pass an exam in Charlotte before it can be offered. Because these dance students will have different needs, I wanted to educate myself with the knowledge needed to help them with social interaction and self-esteem. I just want everyone to be happy and have fun in all my classes.” Elliott will offer the classes to residents of Clarendon, Sumter, and Williamsburg County.
Although the upcoming classes are exciting, this is not the first time the dancers from the academy have given back to the community. Over the past few years, the dancers have collected diapers for out of state hurricane victims, participated in the Soles for Souls donation event by collecting shoes and frequently make sure that the local ‘Blessing Boxes’ in Clarendon County do not run empty. Their latest donation effort was ‘Feed my Starving Children’ that took place at the Sumter Civic Center. ‘Feed my Starving Children’ is a Christian non -profit organization that coordinates the packaging and distribution of food to people in developing nations.
“We prepared and boxed 68,256 meals which is enough to feed one hundred and eighty seven children one meal a day for a year,” said Owens with a smile. “This year, the dance academy will be hosting a toy drive for Toys for Tots an organization that collects toys for children whose families cannot afford to provide them gifts at Christmas.”
“These students know what it means to give back to the community,” said Elliott. “I have them for several hours a week and I feel it is part of my responsibility to teach them to help others. All of the trophies are great, but one day they will collect dust and be forgotten. It will be the effect that these students have on others that will be remembered.”
“We will begin accepting donations for Toys for Tots from Thanksgiving to December 19, which is the day of our Christmas Program at the Weldon Auditorium,” said Elliot. “We as a dance family try and give back to the community in a large way at least once a year which is important to us.”