Dee Gladden has a love for helping children and a passion for dance.

In 2014, she used her own money to start Silver Slippers Dance Academy.

She says she wanted to help children who couldn’t afford expensive lessons.

Gladden didn’t want money to stand between kids and their chance to dance.

The idea came to her when her young granddaughter expressed an interest in learning to dance.

“I put her in a local studio. She had so many cousins and friends who wanted to dance but it’s not always affordable so I decided I would open my own studio,” Gladden told Channel 3.

Despite having no training, Gladden opened Silver Slippers Dance Academy and taught herself how to dance.

“I studied, I watched video after video and learned different things about ballet and thought, I can do this,” said Gladden.

Five years later, her studio has grown to include 35 dancers and two performances each year, one in the summer and another during the winter months.

“They do not know what to expect until it is showtime. Once they get out there and they see the lights and all of the people in the audience, they’re excited. They’re performing to music they’ve never even listened to before,” said Gladden.

Through her studio, Gladden helps children discover their potential.

“It is very rewarding, even with my own grandchildren to see how much they’ve grown, how much they’ve learned and to see them blossom as dancers. It’s just amazing,” said Gladden.

Gladden says private donations help pay tuition for families who can’t afford it. She also uses her own money to cover expenses including the performance venue, costumes and lessons when families can’t pay the full amount.

In addition to owning a dance studio, Gladden works full-time as an executive assistant at Parkridge Valley and that’s where she’s found some of her biggest supporters.

“I’ve seen these girls grow up over the last five years. They’ve got the commitment, they have the creativity and they have passion for what they’re doing,” said friend and colleague Mary Margaret Halverson.

Halverson lights up describing the confidence the children gain on the dance floor.

“They’re growing so much. They’re getting confidence that they might not have gotten otherwise. I’m just so proud of Dee and what she’s been able to accomplish with this dance studio and with the children that she’s teaching,” said Halverson.

Gladden helps her students move in the right direction and says she’s enjoyed every step of the way.

“I enjoy what I do. I feel that in life if you’re not doing what you love to do and what you’re passionate about you’re not living. This is where I live. I love dance and I love what I’ve created. When I see the children perform, it’s a reward for me,” said Gladden.

Silver Slippers Dance Academy offers classes in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and modern dance. The studio has classes three nights a week.

The cost is $35 a month per child.

The next performance, a Dance Production Celebrating Black History Month, is March 30 at 5:00 PM at UTC University Center Auditorium.

If you’d like to make a donation to Silver Slippers Dance Academy, buy a ticket to an upcoming performance or inquire about classes, call (423) 991-7760 or send an email.