The popular contemporary Christian music group Casting Crowns has a song titled “Praise You With the Dance” and includes the lines, “And I'll sing holy, 'cause You're worthy, I'll praise You with the dance.”
For Cristina and Kristian Kelly, they daily take that message to heart with their studio, CK Dance Theatre, located at 5940 Goodman Road in Olive Branch.
For Cristina, worship and dance have had an equal footing in her life. The Nesbit native graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in dance and choreography, while also meeting her future husband Kristian.
With degree in hand, she stepped out into the dance world but said God was working through it all.
“I went to Charlotte, N.C., danced professionally and taught there for awhile,” Kelly said. “But, God was calling me back home and something drew me back to DeSoto County. I worked for dance studios in the area and doors opened for God to lead me to here and open this studio.”
Kelly grew up in dance, even as young as 3 years old, she said.
“I was always active, twisting and twirling and my mom asked if I wanted to do dance,” Kelly related. “From there it was a love and definitely a passion. I think if you asked me when I was 8 years old, I probably told you I wanted to open a dance studio. That was always my goal.”
Returning home to help care for her mother, a door eventually opened for her to teach preschoolers at Faith Preschool Academy in Olive Branch. That would lead to the start of CK Dance Theatre, in a trailer, no less.
“I moved into a tiny trailer at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church and taught dance,” Kelly said. “When we moved here to our current location we only had two spots and then three years later we expanded to the whole building. God blessed us and it’s blown up from there.”
Kelly noted the hand of God was in the whole process, even to a Bible verse printed on the keys to their current location when the sale was completed.
CK Dance Theatre is a Christian dance studio, which may not seem connected, but Kelly points out that dance is used to share the Gospel and give back to the community.
“We pray in class, we teach Christian morals and character building in our classes,” Kelly said. “I’ve always wanted to be a mentor and a role model for children and teens. I’ve always had a love for God and a love for dance.“
Kelly went on to say the studio continues to look at ways to serve in the community, starting with performances in nursing homes for residents who have no family to be with during the Christmas holidays. Dancers also are involved in service projects for charities like Hunger2Hope and perform at the Arc Northwest Mississippi’s Camp BOLD.
“Every year we do a recital just like every other dance studio does but all of the ticket proceeds go to charity,” said Kelly. “We raised $8,000 this year for House of Grace. The year before that the charity was the Arc Northwest Mississippi and we raised $8,500 for them. Every single year since we came to this building we’ve chosen a charity to give to.”
All of the instructors have dance degrees, are professional dancers, or both. They teach dance moves but also values and character, not a specific doctrine.
“It’s just Christian morals that we are teaching but everything that we do has a purpose,” Kelly said.
Classes are taught for children as young as 18 months with their parents on up to pre-professional. Some tumbling and exercise classes are also taught. A CK Performance Team is formed from auditions each year and goes to competitions and does more service projects. But Kelly stresses everything is done with honoring God first.
“We don’t show our midriffs, we don’t dance to inappropriate dance music and we don’t do certain dance moves that you might see in certain music videos and stuff,” said Kelly “I try to use as much Christian music as I can because in a sense, that’s our way to minister to the audience that might not be around God and might not know God.”
And, in case you were wondering, the CK in the name is not for Cristina Kelly. It is for Christ the King.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.