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Betsye Kay Finch Performing Arts Foundation, Inc Fundraiser
September 24, 2020 @ 7:00 pm - 7:15 pm
Due to the COVID-19, we are hosting on Facebook Live! on Thurs, Sept 24, 2020 from 7:00-7:15pm EDT. Please join us for a few fun minutes celebrating the first online fundraiser for scholarships for Lakeland area high school graduating seniors going into Musical Theatre or Dance. Learn more on Facebook!
About Betsye Kay Finch and the
Performing Arts Foundation launched in her honor
Betsye Kay Finch, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, tap and jazz dancer, and dance teacher for over 30 years in Lakeland, Fla., was remembered on October 25, 2019 at a luncheon at Sardi’s restaurant, the iconic theatre haunt in New York City. Her friends, colleagues, former students, along with her son and daughter, were on-hand to celebrate her life and launch the Betsye Kay Finch Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. aimed to help Lakeland-area high school seniors pursue careers in dance or musical theatre.
Betsye began dance lessons as a 4-year-old and fell in love with the rhythm and resonance of tap. At 16, she moved to NYC to study dance and drama at the Feagin School of Dramatic Art, where she met fellow student Angela Lansbury, who continues to act in film, TV and Broadway theatre. A highlight of Betsye’s time in NYC was a brief dancing stint as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. She loved dancing in its chorus line, known for its synchronized high-kicking dancers, but not the grueling hours — four to five shows a day.
Saying goodbye to the exhausting schedule, Betsye left the Rockettes to focus on her drama and dance studies. She took tap lessons from Ziegfeld Follies choreographer Ned Wayburn and from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the dancer who brought tap “up on its toes, dancing upright and swinging,” said one critic. By the time Betsye left NYC, she held four coveted union cards: Actors’ Equity, the American Guild of Variety Artists, SAG, and American Federation of TV and Radio Artists.
Marriage and family drew Betsye back to Lakeland, Fla. in 1949. While she traded her stage life for family life, Betsye kept dancing — as a jazz, tap and ballet teacher. In 1951, she started Betsye Kay’s School of Dance in Lakeland, where she taught dance to thousands of young dancers for over three decades. She also performed in, choreographed and coached dancers for Lakeland Little Theatre, Mark I & II Dinner Theatres, and Winter Haven Community Theatre, among others.
One special student she inspired, Rebecca Renfroe-Borneman, went on to dance in the Broadway show, Bring Back Birdie, in 1981, and in numerous off-Broadway shows including The Pirates of Penzance. “Betsye’s love of people, life, dance, and teaching dance, brought joy to everyone she met. Betsye always said, ‘Listen to the rhythm. Dance in the tune’, which is exactly what I did throughout my life.”
Laurie Wood, another dance student of Betsye’s, choreographed the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant in the Lakeland Center for nearly a decade. She got the job when a talent scout contacted Betsye Kay seeking recommendations for a good local choreographer and she recommended Laurie Wood. For nine years, Laurie choreographed Miss Teen USA’s opening dances and their dance videos filmed in Polk County, along with the Miss USA pageant in Miami. Laurie also danced in and choreographed musicals for Theatre Winter Haven and the Pied Piper Players (today’s Lakeland Community Theatre). Laurie adds, adding “Betsye Kay’s pure joy for teaching dance was so inspiring, and her constant encouragement kept me growing despite my troubled childhood. She was my Earth Angel!”
Betsye also helped raise funds to restore Lakeland’s historic Polk Theatre. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, it showcased vaudeville acts and the earlier ‘talkies’ in the late 1920s and 30s. Today, the Polk Theatre, a nonprofit, showcases films, live theatre and musicals. Married to music, in the 1950s, Betsye hosted a weekly radio program on WONN, “Borrowed and Blue”, featuring show tunes from the 1930s and 40s. She also wrote a weekly column for The (Lakeland) Ledger, “In Lakeland’s Mirror,” covering social events. In 1984 Betsye sold the Betsye Kay’s School of Dance to Carla Glass Holcomb, who ran it until 2011. Betsye died at 92 on March 3rd.
Her daughter, Alexis Rocker, says, “Our mother’s love of dance and musical theatre was a primary thread in her life. She loved sharing her talents with her students. Her impact on the thousands of young people she taught over three decades is immeasurable.” Alexis is launching the Betsye Kay Finch Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. so that “our mother’s love of dance and theatre will live on and on.” The scholarship will be open to aspiring high school seniors in the Lakeland, Fla. area aiming to pursue a career in either dance or musical theater.