Getting to know KW’s original resident Flamenca
I met Kim Green some 3-4 years ago, shortly after Julian and I got settled in Waterloo. Before starting my group dance classes, I decided to search online to see if there was already a flamenco instructor offering lessons in the region. I soon came across kgdance.com. After perusing its pages, I quickly learned that there was more to Kim Green Dance than flamenco – not that teaching flamenco doesn’t already entail a wide range of knowledge!
By the time we founded our fest in 2018, we had already met with Kim on a couple of occasions, either for a bite or a cup of coffee, and had kick-started what has ended up being a very amicable relationship. It’s probably hard to contend the fact that as two flamenco instructors operating in the same region, we function as business competitors, but I must say that she has been the most encouraging competitor that anyone can know. In light of our increased online attention this year, I would like to flag this blogpost dedicated to Kim Green, KW’s original resident flamenco instructor and choreographer.
The history of KW flamenco’s community – the inside scoop
It all started in the 1930s at the dance school of Kim’s Great Aunt Elsie – the Ewald Academy of Dancing. A highly independent and self-motivated individual, Kim’s “Aunt Elsie” would voluntarily attend annual dance seminars in NYC, where she’d network with fellow instructors and learn from the best in the field. During one these work trips, she met a flamenco and Spanish dance instructor, named Elisa Lopez. Upon learning that Elisa was based in Toronto, Aunt Elsie recruited her as a guest instructor at her studio in Kitchener. Elisa and her flamenco piano accompanist became long-term staff at the Ewald Academy of Dancing and it was this sustained working relationship that would eventually introduce young Kim to Spanish dance. Fast-forward even more years, and the role of Spanish dance instructor went to Veronica Maguire (Artistic Director of the Flamenco de la Isla Society), who connected Kim to flamenco companies that had taken form in Toronto.
The legacy of Elsie Ewald
I think it’s important to highlight the lineage that Kim comes from, not only has it shaped who she is, but there are also some valuable take-aways in Aunt Elsie’s story. When she was just four years old, Aunt Elsie, along with her mom and 3 siblings, traveled to Canada by boat from England. This was mere months after the sinking of the Titanic. In fact, her own father was supposed to be on the Titanic, itself, but by chance got bumped to another ship. Originally of German descent, the family settled in Berlin, Ontario (later to be renamed Kitchener) and, over time, Aunt Elsie became a self-taught dance teacher. As if that isn’t impressive enough, her thriving dance business was founded amidst the Great Depression and went on to last over 60 years! When Elsie first started the studio, classes were just 50¢ each. She received most of her initial training from a dance teacher training manual she had ordered through the mail. Allow me to put into perspective the longevity and imprint of Elsie’s dance legacy:
- Two of her baton twirlers appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.
- Lorna Geddes, former ballerina for the National Ballet, retiring just this year after a 60-year run with the company, was a student of Elsie’s.
- Aunt Elsie didn’t retire until she was 80 years old.
When Kim told me all this about her aunt (after I picked my jaw up off the floor), I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the obstacles that her Aunt Elsie had to overcome, and the rays of hope it may offer us now. It should come as no surprise that Kim, too, offered insight on the significance of the arts during such times:
I think a lot of times, when there are difficult financial times, that’s when people go back and look at the arts. That’s where they look for their inspiration, to say, “How are we going to get out of this?” Or they just say, “Art, take me so I don’t have to think about what’s going on in life right now!”
Kim’s dance story: from Ewald Academy of Dance, to Toronto and beyond
We’ve established that Kim’s dance career started when she was a young girl at The Ewald Academy of Dancing – a hotspot for the entire Ewald clan, where her parents, 5 siblings, aunt, uncle and cousins had some involvement with the studio. Kim eventually took over her great aunt’s business, but in the interim, her dance training and career extended far beyond the boundaries of Kitchener. After high-school, Kim earned a degree in English from the University of Waterloo and a diploma in Dance from Ryerson University in Toronto. But even when Kim wasn’t enrolled in Ryerson’s dance program, she would still commute to and from Toronto or reside there, for a total of 8 years. I asked Kim why she felt a need to go to the big city of Toronto:
Mostly there was no flamenco here. By that point, Elisa Lopez had passed away and my own ballet teacher had moved to Toronto to take over an established dance studio. When you get to a certain level, a senior level, you want more of a challenge.
The acknowledgement that there was more to be had outside of the small town of Kitchener (which it still was at the time) was the principal reason why her Aunt would continually bring in guest instructors and choreographers; and why she always encouraged Kim to do more with her dance.
Recollecting her tenure in Toronto, Kim said:
In the 80s, you could make a living as a freelance dancer – I did Ukrainian, I did flamenco, working at Wonderland for 3 seasons, I performed at Ontario Place… waitressed and bartended… and then I worked for Folk Ballet. I loved dances from different nations. I always thought it was interesting to learn about different cultures… Auditioning for Folk Ballet you had to be strong in ballet and tap, as well as pick up newer styles – such as Argentine tango and Georgian dancing… But the other half was run by a woman that did all flamenco, so she wanted people who were strong in flamenco… It seemed that you had to go out of Kitchener… There were so many other teachers that had wider experience. When I went to Toronto, I took classes and studied with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal the first year they started a satellite school … and then there was another teacher who was renowned, he’d been on Broadway, his name was Len Gibson, and I studied Afro-Cuban jazz with him… I’d go and take summer ballet camps and meet more teachers. I thought it’s good to have a foundation with good technique but it’s also great to, with seminars and dance camps and conventions, it’s great to get out there and get different perspectives, once your own basic technique is there.
Kim’s time in Toronto is just the tip of the iceberg. Keep talking to Kim and the impressive array of dance travels just keep coming out of the woodworks. Her genuine curiosity to learn about people through dance led her to take classes at Alvin Ailey and Luigi, to study Greek belly dance in Greece, and ballet character dance in Minsk, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Her “ida y vuelta” (going and returning) reflects more than the fact that big cities and travel offer opportunities for performers, but also Kim’s thirst for knowledge and an openness to learn from different types of artists, cultures, and companies.
After completing her final year at Ryerson Dance, Kim bought her Aunt Elsie’s dance studio. She ran the studio independently for some time, later joining forces with a friend when they merged their two separate schools. She also became part of Carousel Dance Centre and, through them, has taught dance classes to children, teens, and students at the University of Waterloo.
Understanding Kim’s dance philosophy
During my most recent phone call with Kim, I managed to jot down some pretty great Kim quotes, all of which hint at how she sees the world as a dancer. Allow me to sprinkle some of these quotes below, and then present to you my understanding of Kim’s outlook on dance and life.
Besides eating with somebody, I think dancing with somebody is a good way to learn about their culture, and their personality too.
I think part of why I’ve been driven to do this has been not just a desire to dance but to discover different cultures and different people.
A lot of what I’ve learned from my dance teachers has been from their life experience.
Dance is therapeutic.
If you can’t get along in class, how can you get along in the world?
I know there is a certain stress, that you want to be better or be the best that you can be, but I think there also has to be cooperation.
Dance as long as you can.
Kim is a dancer through and through, and well-informed dance educator. She manages to share her knowledge of dance (it’s history, meanings, industry) in casual conversation, and in such a non-pretentious way! This matter-of-fact and down-to-earth way of sharing knowledge has always struck me about her. Even though her and I both have university educations in dance, her retention of dance history (and so history, in general) far surpasses mine. Talk to her about her career, and it will be hard to keep track of all the places she’s traveled to, the people she’s taken class with, and the credentials she’s accrued. But the most impressive part is that she manages to share this without an air of arrogance; and I think the ability to divulge one’s accomplishments without coming across as “bigging oneself up” is rather unique.
Kim has checked-off many of the boxes that any dance professional would want: graduating from a prestigious dance program, training with renowned artists, traveling as a performer, owning your own dance studio, and teaching at a post-secondary institution. And yet, she’s managed to do so without being an aggressive competitor. I think it’s quite evident in her quotes that she is not one to have a nasty competitive edge. It’s not that she doesn’t see the occasional need for “healthy competition,” but in general, she’s much more inclined to collaborate with and encourage others. I think this way of being stems largely from the fact that she is so genuinely interested in people, their cultures, practices, art, backgrounds, and life experiences. What she values is not winning the competition, but rather people and their stories, and dance, itself. “Dance as long as you can.” “Dance is therapeutic.” These are the words of someone who values this wonderous, moving, musical, expressive, and immersive phenomenon that is dance, and who wants to share its benefits.
When I see that there are commonalities between her and my dance trajectory, I am humbled. Working for multiple dance companies, performing at different venues throughout Toronto, bartending and waitressing to help top-off the income… At different points in time, our dance careers really mirrored each other. With all her diverse studies she was able to become a versatile dancer with a wide range of capabilities. One can dedicate your whole life training exclusively to a single dance genre. Many people do. Many people opt to focus exclusively on ballet, or tap, or hip hop, or belly dance, or flamenco, etc., and for good reason. Excelling at even just one artform, or even just one classification of an artform, takes a lot of dedication. But in an area and era where travel isn’t so accessible, or for those of us who feel a need to stay close to home, immersing oneself fully in flamenco – which lies largely in a distant land – isn’t so easy. But that doesn’t mean that we are not dancers, that we don’t have knowledge to share, be it a little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B. I’m so glad that after coming across her site, I pushed away any thought of being scared or cynical and that, instead, I opted to reach out to Kim. Although I do admit, I got Julian, as a friendly and “impartial” guitarist, to make the initial contact.