Sacrifices paying off for Hilary Knee
Hilary Knee performs during a recent show. — Submitted photo by Cathy McKelvey
Hilary Knee has much to say. You just have to watch her on stage to interpret it.
What the Corner Brook native has to say she expresses through her dance. The dedication and passion the 17-year-old has shown in pursuit of a career in the industry is a force behind her success thus far.
As a six-year-old, the daughter of Corner Brook’s Marilyn Elliott and Terrence (Keith)‚ Knee joined a class at Dance Studio West. All her friends were in dance, she said, so she wanted to be as well. She has never looked back.
“It is such an amazing way to express yourself, express your soul,” Knee said. “It just felt right, it always has. I always loved music, and I think it is amazing you can say so much without speaking, just with your body and with your movement.”
Her local teacher Amy Andrews, owner and artistic director of Dance Studio West, recommended she attend a summer intensive at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, Ont. at the age of 14. There, she was mentored by Elisabeth Pardy, a St. John’s native who now teaches at the Mount Pearl School of Dance, and Johanna Hilchie. They provided her with additional inspiration to pursue her ambition, she said, leading to the biggest decision of her young life.
Preparing for her final year of junior high, she left her family in Corner Brook and moved to Halifax, N.S., not even having secured a place to live. In short order, she began junior high, had moved in with Sandy Greenberg and Thomas Cormier — who, after four years, she considers her second family — and enrolled in the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts.
“I knew if I wanted to be successful with my dancing, I had to move, which was a hard decision,” she said, while home in Corner Brook for the holidays. “It was really tough that first year, being homesick and stuff, but I stuck it through and it was definitely worth it.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else, so I knew it was the right decision. So far, it’s been good.”
Knee did a pre-professional program during her two years at the conservatory, where she danced on average 20 hours a week. During that time, she concentrated primarily on ballet, with a bit of modern dance and conditioning.
The senior at Citadel High School is in her second year at the Leica Hardy School of Dance in Dartmouth. Knee said it is better to learn from as many teachers as possible, and said she is happy with her decision to dance under Hardy.
Danced in ‘The Nutcracker’
Hardy is also the choreographer of “The Nutcracker,” which is done with Symphony Nova Scotia, and is dubbed “Halifax’s favourite holiday tradition for more than 20 years.” Knee’s hard work certainly paid off in landing her the roles of snowmaid, a dancer for the waltz of the flowers, and the Spanish soloist in that show.
The solo was the second for her, the first being for a school recital, so she said she considered this a real accomplishment and a recognition of her abilities.
The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax had a full house for the 10 shows of “The Nutcracker” just before Christmas, and Knee was pleased with her performances.
“I was very happy,” she said. “I loved it, and I miss it already.”
It was her second year performing in “The Nutcracker,” and she had been rehearsing since September. She said it was unnerving in early rehearsals, preparing for such a big role, but she got really comfortable as she continued to work.
“I really have to start thinking about what I will do in the future, and that was a really big opportunity for people to see me and my dancing,” she said.
Knee’s training is comprised of about three hours of dance a day on evenings and weekends, and is focused more on contemporary ballet and modern dance.
She plans to stay in Halifax for a year after graduating from high school to continue dancing and find employment.
“I am loving my time with Leica, and she is so amazing,” she said. “I just want to soak up as much knowledge of hers as possible.”
Afterwards, she said she hopes to pursue a higher education — contemplating LADMMI in Montreal, Que., or Toronto Dance Theatre, both modern dance schools. Ideally, Knee said she sees her future as a member of a contemporary ballet or a modern dance company. She said she also enjoys travelling, so, in a perfect world, that company would tour.
But she said she recognizes it is a tough industry, with so few being successful.
“I have my heart set on it, so hopefully I will get there,” she said.
Hardy has already seen Knee will do what it takes when she sets her heart on something.
“Hilary has always been very serious about her goals, so she comes to it with a lot of focus and determination,” the instructor said. “She comes to class with a very strong purpose.”
Hardy said she recognizes the sacrifices Knee has already made, and said moving away from home and her family at the age of 14, galvanized her toward her purpose.
Standing 6’1” is a physical gift, but is also a curse in many respects for a dancer.
“She has enormous flexibility and mobility in her body, and it creates beautiful, beautiful lines and extensions,” Hardy said.
“But, because of her height, she has the challenge of trying to keep all that organized. “She has those challenges, and in that area she has made enormous strides in the last two years. She is starting to really gain control of her instrument.”
The teacher said she believes her pupil has a future in dance, but a dancer must be able to find their place and hang tough in the hard times. She said Knee has already shown that toughness.
“I think her prognosis is good,” she said, laughing.
The Western Star