The most rewarding aspect of working at Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts is the opportunity to witness both small moments and larger milestones within families: the loving bond between a pregnant mother and her eldest child expressed through an emotionally-affecting contemporary dance duet; the grandfather flying in from a far-flung region of Canada to present his granddaughter with a bouquet of fresh roses in celebration of her stage debut; students from HCA’s first generation returning to enroll their excited young ones in an art class; entire families spending their Saturday morning learning musical instruments. On any given day, you might also witness a member of the Askey family dancing up a storm in one of our studios, volunteering in a class full of eager four-year-olds, or experimenting with choreography for a year end recital routine. Jennifer and Dale, along with their children Margaret and Ingrid, are long-time students that bring a remarkable amount of dedication to their arts education, and are quick to extol the benefits of joining dance classes at HCA – no matter one’s age, gender, or experience level. We spoke to the family about some of their most memorable moments at the Conservatory and the importance of arts in our society.
Can you tell us a bit about your family? How did you end up in Hamilton and at HCA?
Dale: We are originally American, but moved to Hamilton in 2011 and love it. We previously lived in various places in the United States and Germany. Three of us are German-English bilingual. We moved here so that I could take a job at McMaster University, but in the meantime this has become home.
Has supporting and pursuing arts always been a priority within your family?
Dale: To some extent, yes. Our girls have danced since they were very young, and experimented with piano and other instruments. Both girls are visually creative, which they surely inherited from my mother, not me.
Jennifer: I think we enrolled the girls in dance back in Kansas because it seemed like a fun activity for them. I don’t think I anticipated it becoming such a huge and important part of their lives. I took ballet lessons when I was in elementary school, until age 11 or so, when my teacher suggested that I would be better off finding other hobbies. . . like reading. I was planning on supporting them in their dancing, but once Dale started taking lessons, the pressure was on for me to join! Dance has sort of grown to be a big part of what we do. (I still read a LOT of books, though.)
To you, what are the main benefits of dance education, as well as the important of arts in society?
Dale: For me, it’s the connection between being aware of one’s body, taking care of it, and learning to move with the fact that when one dances one is performing for a literal or implied audience. What I mean is that it looks inward as well as outward.
Jennifer: The more we learn about the connection between music, movement, and brain activity, the more I think it is a shame that there is so little formal music or dance instruction in schools. Margaret and Ingrid are lucky that they’ve had individual teachers who put an emphasis on this, so they’ve had the opportunity to do music and dance outside of the HCA as well. Dance allows us to let off steam, move with our breath and emotions, see direct progress in our efforts. It’s a great counterbalance to desk time and book time.
Do you have a favourite HCA memory or a proudest HCA family moment that you’d like to share?
Dale: Both of our girls have received a year-end award, but the year Ingrid won it we were truly and utterly shocked. She had grown so much as a dancer in one year, and we hadn’t really seen it happen. Then all of a sudden, wow, there was this elegant, confident, graceful young woman on the stage just dancing the lights out. That’s probably tied for me with taking the stage with both of them at the 2016 recital. I surely would not have predicted that that would ever occur when they were born, but it seemed so natural and I look forward to any opportunity to dance with them or Jennifer. In general, I have found that I can barely watch my children dance without being overcome with emotion by how beautiful and expressive they are, so dancing with them actually helps me focus and maintain my composure.
Jennifer: There are so many. I think I would echo what Dale said above.
How would you describe HCA in 3 words?
Dale: inclusive, supportive, sane.
Jennifer: positive, supportive, fun
Anything else you’d like to add?
Dale: Yes: men, get out here and dance. Really, it’s silly that so many watch their kids do this for years without giving it a try. It’s the best thing you will ever do.
Jennifer: Again, I’ll echo Dale’s call for more men to take up dance. The adult program is growing and Denise and Eleanor are excellent teachers–neither one of them has suggested that I should find a different hobby!!