About Betsye Kay Finch
When Betsye was just a toddler, her mother noticed she loved to dance — sometimes to music on the radio and sometimes to music in her imagination. So she signed her up for dance lessons where Betsye fell in love with the rhythm of tap. Throughout her school years, Betsye danced — ballet, tap and jazz — and performed at schools and local theatres. At 16, she moved to New York City to study dance with the pros. Betsye Kay honed her tap skills from the celebrated Ziegfeld Follies choreographer, Ned Wayburn, and from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who brought tap “up on its toes and dancers upright and swinging,” according to one critic.
As an impassioned dancer reaching for the stars, Betsye Kay lived at the famous Rehearsal Club, a Victorian boarding house for female dancers and thespians in the heart of the theatre district. Here, she swapped stage stories with women who became her lifelong friends. During her five years in New York City, Betsye danced in musicals and did a stint at Radio City Music Hall as a Rockette.
Family and a marriage proposal brought Betsye back to her hometown of Lakeland in 1948. And while she traded her stage life for family life, Betsye kept dancing. As the mother of a toddler, she founded the Betsye Kay School of Dance in the early 1950s, where she taught ballet, jazz, and tap for over three decades.
Betsye inspired thousands of young dancers and musicians over the years, including Rebecca Renfroe-Borneman, who went on to graduate from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and danced in the Broadway musical Bring Back Birdie in 1981. “Betsye always said, ‘Listen to the rhythm, dance in the tune’, which is exactly what I did throughout my life,” said Ms. Renfroe-Borneman, who has worked in musical theatre for over 30 years.
“For me, tap dancing is the rhythm of the universe!”
-Betsye Kay Finch
In the 1950s, Betsye Kay also hosted an evening music show, “Borrowed and Blue,” on local radio station WONN, and wrote a Lakeland Ledger column, “In Lakeland’s Mirror” on local theatre, musicals and social events. When Betsye Kay Finch retired from her dance studio in 1984, she stayed connected to dance and musical theatre. She performed in, choreographed, and coached dancers for the Lakeland Little Theatre, Mark I and II Dinner Theatres, and the Winter Haven Community Theatre. She also joined various fundraising campaigns, and helped to restore the historic 1928 Polk Theatre, which had showcased vaudeville acts and “talkies” in the 1920s; today the Polk Theatre hosts contemporary films and live theatre.
Betsye Kay Finch passed away on March 3, 2019 at 92. Betsye’s daughter, Alexis Rocker of Tampa, and her son, Al Finch of Lakeland, launched the BKF Foundation in October 2019 at a luncheon at Sardi’s, the iconic haunt for NYC’s Broadway theatre crowd. Luncheon guests included her dance and theatre friends including Charles Strouse, composer of the Broadway musical, Annie, who remembered Betsye Kay as “a beautiful dancer ... who did so much for her hometown with her dance studio.”