Rice enriches community through dance, fitness

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 7, 2024

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Sonya S. Rice, a native of Greenville, is The Greenville Advocate hero of the week. Nominated for dedicating her life to the arts and fitness, Rice significantly impacts her community through dance and yoga.

“My father told me many a time, ‘Find out what your passion is and then learn how to make money doing just that,’” Rice said.

Rice’s passion for dance was evident from a young age as she entertained relatives and neighborhood kids with impromptu performances. Influenced by shows like “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train,” she spent countless hours practicing dance routines and dreaming of a future in the performing arts. 

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Her life changed after watching the movie “Fame”, which inspired her to pursue professional dance.

After catching the eye of local dance instructor Laura Anderson, who offered her free dance lessons, Rice’s talent blossomed. She won a performing arts scholarship in voice to Jefferson Davis State, traveled with a jazz band and eventually became its choreographer. 

“I loved singing, but it was dance that owned my passion,” Rice said.

Rice’s professional dance career included time with the Montgomery Civic Ballet Company. After decades of training and performing in cities like Montgomery, Atlanta, Chicago and New York, she returned to Greenville with a mission to share her knowledge. 

In 1994, Rice founded Sonya’s Dance & Fitness Studio, offering a variety of dance styles and fitness programs.

“I wanted the school from ‘Fame’ to be here in Greenville,” Rice said. 

Rice has also dedicated herself to community service, volunteering free dance, fitness and yoga classes to underprivileged students.

“There’s so much talent out in the world, and it’s such a shame to let money stand in the way of greatness,” Rice said.

Her daughter, Courtney Price, described Rice’s generosity.

“Through the years, I have seen her help many children and families in need,” Price said. “She would give them scholarships or just give them costumes or shoes for free. Even during hard times when my family itself was struggling financially, she would continue to give to those in need because she just couldn’t turn a child away.”

Rice expanded her fitness expertise by obtaining certifications in aerobics, Pilates and yoga, including training with Jane Fonda in the 1980s. She later developed a passion for yoga, leading her to open Elements Yoga Studio in 2019, offering various yoga classes, including aerial yoga. Although the pandemic forced the closure of the aerial studio, Rice continued teaching yoga at her dance studio.

Rice plans to celebrate her 30th season of dance with special programs for her students including yoga, Pilates and dance classes for adults and seniors. 

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting others up,” Rice said. “Seeing people of all walks of life learn a new skill and become comfortable in their bodies makes my heart smile.”

Price emphasized her mother’s dedication to the community.

“She believes all children deserve to have access to the arts, creativity and movement,” Price said. “She has created a beautiful safe space for the youth of Greenville.”