Ken Atkinson School of Dance
Ken Atkinson has spent his entire adult life in the world of dance. At age 19 in his hometown of Winnipeg, he started taking eight hours of private instruction each week in ballroom dancing. Remarkably, he began a full-time career teaching dance a mere six months later. His proficiency led to two fully sponsored sessions under the private instruction of Betty “Romaine” Oswald, who had twice won the North American Ballroom Championship. These experiences cemented Ken’s decision to pursue a career as a professional dancer, and he began studying Ballet, Tap, Jazz and also Modern Dance which included two years as a member of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers under the the direction of the company’s founder Rachel Browne.
In 1969 Ken’s talents carried him to Toronto. He danced on virtually all the variety programming produced at CBC, including two years on the Tommy Hunter Show and specials with Anne Murray and Wayne and Shuster. While at CTV, Ken spent six seasons partnered with “Romaine” on the Pig ’n Whistle Show, two years with the Bobby Vinton Show and appeared in numerous specials including Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare.”
Ken was CTV’s resident choreographer from 1977 through 1981. He worked on five National series’, including “Stars on Ice” and “Circus”, both of which were also seen internationally. In TV specials, he worked with such luminaries as Jim Carrey, Johnny Cash, Alex Trebek, Rich Little, and most notably, the one-time queen of Broadway dancers, Chita Rivera, in Toller Cranston’s CBC Special “Strawberry Ice.” Ken’s work was submitted for an Emmy Award nomination as choreographer of the variety special “The Ice Stars Hollywood Revue,” a Dick Clark/Michael Steele Production for the American CBS Television Network.
Ken’s stage credits include a lead understudy (in “La Vie Parisienne”) at the Stratford Festival and supporting roles at the Charlottetown Festival, the Manitoba Theatre Centre and Winnipeg’s Rainbow Stage.
From 1976 through 1980, Ken was also operating his school of dance in Peterborough, Lindsay and Orillia, teaching Ballroom, Jazz and Disco.
By 1985 budget cuts in television virtually ended variety programming, so in response Ken created his own dinner theatre company, Ken Atkinson Musical Productions (KAMP). For 18 years his company performed in both public and corporate venues throughout Southern and Central Ontario. His two most popular shows were “Al Capone’s Birthday” and “Columbo – A Case of Homicide.” During this time Ken was also continuing to provide private ballroom dance instruction.
In 1999 Big Band swing music had a huge revival, and Ken began teaching Swing dance classes. Two years later he added Waltz, Fox Trot, Cha Cha, Rumba, Tango, Samba and Salsa. These classes continue today in Ken’s school of dance, which operates in Orillia and Lindsay.
Ken feels fortunate to be making his living doing what he loves to do, so his days are packed full of teaching, dancing and music. But when he’s relaxing, you’ll often find him enjoying sunsets over the lake at his waterfront home in the Kawarthas.
Lois has spent most of her life as a health professional. She studied x-ray and ultrasound in Vancouver and now manages Orillia X-ray and Ultrasound.
Lois found her beginnings in dance with Ken Atkinson’s swing classes in 1999 when she and husband Mon enrolled in Swing classes. After Mon’s sudden death, Lois decided to continue dancing.
Although she’d had no prior experience, Ken chose to train her as his dance partner. By the fall of 2001 she had acquired the skill to partner him not only in class, but also in demonstration and exhibition performances. In 2002 she became an assistant instructor in Ken’s ballroom, Swing and Salsa classes. She continues in this role at both the Orillia and Lindsay schools.
For Lois, dance was the vehicle by which she recovered from the loss of her first husband and found new focus in her life. Coincidentally, dance was also the vehicle that led her to Fred, her current husband, with whom she continues to dance.
Lois and Elaine (see In Memoriam below) became close friends through their early dance experiences with Ken, thinking of themselves as sisters in dance. Together they took their skills and their love of dance to additional arenas. In 2003 they joined Ken in a performance at the Orillia Opera House for the Jubilee Chorale Concert.
In 2005 both Elaine and Lois entered the world of musical theatre. They were invited to audition for the Mariposa Arts Theatre (MAT) production of “Evita” by director Wayne Noble, one of Ken’s ballroom students. Wayne also asked Elaine to create some of the dance numbers, and this was her first venture into musical theatre choreography. Both women also choreographed and performed in the MAT productions of “My Fair Lady” (2009) and “Guys and Dolls” (2011). In May (2014), Elaine and Lois danced in “Dancing In The Third Act”, conceived and choreographed by Randy Glynn and presented at the Orilla Opera House.
Barb was raised in Orillia, and after graduating high school, spent a couple of years employed as a court reporter before moving to Toronto. After a summer in Europe in her early 20’s, Barb returned home to Toronto and, for the next 5 years, studied competitive and recreational international-style ballroom dancing.
Wanting to pursue ballroom dance as a career, Barb, then in her late 20’s, joined the Arthur Murray studio in Toronto. There she trained as a junior teacher and also met her husband. They moved to Barrie in 1972, raised their two children and taught ballroom dancing part-time at the local YMCA . In the mid 80’s, they were instrumental in starting the Barrie Ballroom Dance Club which is still very active today.
With the end of her marriage and her children grown, Barb wanted to reignite her love of ballroom dancing. At the same time she was building her career as a self-employed bookkeeper, and, in March 2004, one of her clients put her in touch with Ken. Because of her past dance experience, Barb studied privately with Ken, a schedule that continues today. She perfected her technique to performance level and partnered Ken in a number of demonstrations and exhibitions, the highlight for her being the Tango, her favourite dance. During her student years with Ken, Barb always assisted him in classes when needed.
In the Fall of 2017, Barb became an assistant on a regular basis in Orillia and Lindsay solidifying the teaching technique required to help both the men and ladies. Barb and Donna were friends, and became even closer as Donna devoted time and effort to sharing her knowledge with Barb. Of course, Ken’s expertise and watchful eyes guided both of them. And Lois’s input, as Ken’s most experienced assistant, furthered their training.
Beside dancing, Barb, throughout her adult life, has engaged in two other recreational pastimes; horseback riding and curling. The latter she continues today, somehow amazingly fitting in 8 ends between all those dance steps.
Donna M. Gowland B.Sc.N.
Donna obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from McMaster University in 1975. She practised Intensive Care nursing at McMaster University Medical Centre & Community Nursing with The Victorian Order of Nurses in Toronto as well as Nursing Education & Administration until 1989. She then left conventional nursing to start her own private practise in Holistic Nursing in which she presently works full time.
Donnas’ first experience with dance began as a child at community halls dancing Square Dances, Polkas, Fox Trots & Waltzes with her Dad & brothers. Upon moving to Orillia in 2000, Donna & her husband joined a Scottish Country Dance Group & enjoyed dancing & performing in several venues for 18 years.
Following the sudden death of her husband in 2009, Donna decided to explore a new dance genre and enrolled in Ballroom Dance lessons. She soon discovered that the joy that had been missing in her life began to mysteriously rekindle until soon dancing became her passion. Donna chose to advance her dancing skills through private lessons with Ken and has been able to perform exhibitions with him as well as several demonstration dances including a live stage performance for the 150th Anniversary of Lindsay’s Academy Theatre.
Recently Donna has begun teaching privately & this has cemented her passion for dance, increased her desire for more involvement with students, provided opportunities to expand her dancing skills & motivated her to develop a deeper understanding of the art of dance. Donna assists Ken in teaching classes having now joined his team of assistants.
Donna shares her home with her Mom, three cats and a multitude of wildlife that “dance” on the lawn of her Lake Simcoe waterfront property.
Dearly missed 1954 – 2015
Elaine Nicol was born in Toronto and, at age six, began ballet classes at the National Ballet School of Canada. In grade six she entered the full-time ballet school where she studied dance along with a regular academic curriculum until her grade twelve graduation.
After moving to Orillia in 1990, Elaine joined the liturgical dance team, Silent Voices, at Guardian Angels Catholic Church. For 15 years Silent Voices danced during mass for Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday and Pentecost at their home church and were also invited to dance at many special occasions and other churches in Orillia, Toronto and as far as Hamilton.
In 1999 Elaine enrolled in Ken Atkinson’s Swing classes, and the next year, took Mambo classes with her ten-year-old son as her partner. By 2002 she began her role as assistant Swing instructor for Ken, which also included performing demonstration and exhibition dance numbers with him. The following year, Elaine also started assisting with ballroom and Salsa classes in Orillia and, two years later, in Lindsay.
In 2005, Ken offered Elaine the position of lead instructor for dance classes provided through Fleming College in Haliburton. Elaine accepted the opportunity, and she continued to teach those classes until June 2015.
Elaine had expanded her talents beyond the realm of ballroom dance. With the Coldwater Village Players, she choreographed and danced in the pantomime “Cinderella” (2005). In their 2011 production of “Pirates of Penzance,” she assisted with the choreography and sang in the chorus.
Elaine had also collaborated on a number of projects with fellow assistant instructor, Lois Larsen. (See Lois’ bio above).