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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008 08:18 pm

Happy feats

Springfields Ketchum Five have learned more than dance steps on the path to success


Springfield’s Ketchum Five: Harrison, Hamilton, Halley, Harmony, and Hannah, with DCDS instructor Janet Cripe

Linda Ketchum clutches photographs of five smiling kids decked out in costumes that span the colors of the rainbow. She fights off tears as she flips through them, stopping each time one evokes a favorite story or memory.

She remembers when her two oldest daughters, Halley and Hannah, danced in their first recital, happily fumbling through the moves along with the other pint-sized performers. She laughs about how her first son, Harrison, topped off each costume with a hat, pulling it down over his right eye in unintentional Gene Kelly style, and how her next son, Hamilton, emulated his brother. She positively glows when she shares a more recent story of how Harmony, the baby of the family, along with the four others, surprised her with a first-time tribute routine danced to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.”

Following in their children’s footsteps, Linda and Nick Ketchum took salsa lessons and are now considering ballroom dancing.

As the parents of the “Ketchum Five,” Linda and her husband, Nick, could talk for hours about their children and the unusual lives that they’ve chosen. Not only have they become the backbone of Dance Creations Dance Studio, a successful 250-plus-pupil studio in Springfield, but they have also come to learn more than just dance steps from instructor and mentor Janet Cripe.

And they each took to the path on their own — no poking or prodding from Mom and Dad.

“We didn’t decide; they did,” Linda says. “We’ve never put them in dance — they’ve just decided that they wanted to dance.”

Halley was just a toddler when she made up her mind.

When the soon-to-be 3-year old asked her mother for dance lessons, Linda didn’t even know where to begin. She thought that it was too early for her daughter to learn, plus she herself had never done it and was admittedly oblivious to all things dance. Linda started making phone calls, and after a couple of dead ends found what she was looking for in Cripe, then an assistant instructor at the Vitina Sansone School of Dance.

Halley enrolled in a Saturday dance class, and not long after she debuted in her first recital. Cripe says she was a natural from the start. But the young tot’s fledging career came to an abrupt halt later that year when Cripe got married and decided to leave the Sansone school.
By this time Hannah also wanted to dance, but Linda didn’t want to take her daughters to anyone else.

By coincidence or by fate — the Ketchums would say fate — Linda ran into Cripe and asked whether she would open her own studio. At first, Cripe says, she didn’t think it was the right time, but she found the perfect place two months later, and on Feb. 19, 1991, Halley and Hannah enrolled as her first students. Just a month before, Linda had given birth to Harrison, whose birthday has ever since been a reminder of the DCDS anniversary.

In Harrison’s case, Linda says she never expected that her son would follow in his sisters’ footsteps. But they were watching a performance of Grease, starring Cripe dressed up as Danny Zucko, when the bug bit him, too.

“Harrison went absolutely nuts over it — he thought she was a real guy,” Linda says. “And he thought that if [Danny] could dance, then so could he.”

The rest, she says, is Ketchum history.

“So he signed up the next year, and then the following year Hamilton wanted to do it. And when Harmony turned 3, she just assumed she would do it. “It’s kind of the way it’s gone.”

Halley Ketchum

Halley, a bubbly 21-year-old, is the leader of the Ketchum clan.

Tiny in frame but not in character, she was involved in everything from sports to show choir at Ursuline Academy and is now studying biology at Webster University in St. Louis. She chose her major after taking an anatomy class, she says, and discovering that she had a strong connection with kinetics after studying dance.

Hannah, 20, is quieter and more reserved than her older sister. Her dad calls her the “witty one.” She also spent four years at Ursuline, participating in as many extracurriculars as possible and enjoying the behind-the-scenes aspect of theater. She now studies special education at Eastern Illinois University and hopes to combine dance with her love of kids by teaching classes to children with physical and mental disabilities.

Harrison Ketchum

Harrison comes next. Nearly 17 years old, the fun-loving Springfield High School junior has a knack for making people laugh. He’s been nationally recognized for his hip-hop dancing and passes on his gift by teaching little ones and preteens his moves. He’s equally thrilled about playing the guitar and bass, a passion he shares with his brother.

Hamilton, 15, seems shy at first — until he busts into a few hip-hop moves or picks up a guitar. A freshman at Springfield High, he’s found his calling in music and plays in a few bands around town. Probably much to his embarrassment, his mom confirms to Illinois Times that he’s a “heartthrob.”

Last but not least is Harmony, the 12-year-old combination Ketchum. Petite like Halley, she has a talent for dancing like her older siblings’ and is already involved in sports and music. Cripe says she used to call herself “Harmilton” when she was younger and is commonly referred to as “the cleanup crew.”

The “Ketchum Five” think of Cripe’s studio as their second home.

Halley remembers dancing at the studio three to four hours, four days a week, in addition to practicing on the weekends. Dancers come equipped with homework, snacks, and dinner, finding time to study and eat during breaks between classes. Even when they aren’t there for their own classes, they often come to the studio to rehearse with friends or to demonstrate for other classes. And, as Halley says, all dancers soon become familiar with crunch time.

“When you get into competition season or recital season,” she says, “you just have to know you’re here.”

Linda says that recitals often bring long, hectic days, and this was particularly true when the kids were younger. The Ketchums had their own dressing room so she could keep track of everyone and their costumes. It wasn’t unusual for the kids to be in 25 to 30 numbers during a three-hour-long recital, and Linda would find just enough time to dress them, apply makeup, pass out props, run out to see them perform, and then run right back in to prepare them for next number.

Harrison calls his dad a “trouper” when it comes to recitals. Because of Linda’s extensive involvement backstage, Nick has always sat through entire shows by himself and has been commended for never once sneaking out the back as many other dads do.


Nick is the first to admit that dancing hasn’t always been his thing.

He says that he was especially wary when Harrison and Hamilton wanted join DCDS, because like many dads, he wasn’t sure that his sons should be dancing. After seeing them learn and grow under Cripe’s wing, though, he soon realized that he was wrong.

“Janet is probably one of the most committed persons that I have ever been around,” Nick says, “and I think all of the kids have come away from this with a certain confidence that Linda and I couldn’t have given them.”

Harrison was in the first male class at DCDS and has since — like his sisters — won several awards and scholarships, including an invitation-only intensive study with the choreographers of So You Think You Can Dance. He was one of just 20 selected from nearly 600 hopefuls.

Linda still remembers his first competition, at which he received not only a first-place award but also a trophy for “Most Entertaining of the Day” for a routine performed to “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” He was only 7.

“He had this perfect Christmas look on his face,” she says. “We still have that great big trophy at home, but it doesn’t look so big anymore.”

Harrison and Hamilton haven’t gotten much grief from their nondancing friends, especially since they’ve gotten more into hip-hop than into jazz or tap. Whenever the boys go to school dances and no one’s dancing, Harrison says, that’s their time to shine. They get out in the middle of the floor and do their thing.

“Everyone loves it, and all of the girls want to come talk to us,” he adds.

Photo courtEsy of THE Ketchum Family

Harrison, Hamilton, and Harmony all attribute their musical talent to dance.

When the boys began taking guitar lessons, their instructor told them that most people drop out during the first year because they have trouble keeping time — but, Harrison says, that was never an issue for them because they learned the concept of rhythm at an early age.

It’s the same for Harmony, who one day decided that she wanted to play the piano. She took a piano book, matched the notes up to the keyboard, and played her piece. Although she’s still learning, Linda says, she wouldn’t have been able to do that without the sense of rhythm required in dance.

In more ways than one, Halley says, she has found herself at DCDS. She began teaching her own classes when she was in high school and wanted to do the same after she got to Webster University. But in the beginning, she says, she was intimidated by the eclectic mix of extensively trained teachers. Even though Halley was given a lesson plan for guidance, she always reverted to the unforgettable games and exercises that she had learned from Cripe.

“It gave me the confidence to walk into a classroom, knowing that while I was a different voice for that studio I was making a huge impact,” she says.

Halley echoes her dad when she says that Cripe also helped teach them the importance of commitment. Because they were involved in dance from an early age, she says, the Ketchum Five have always been dedicated to every activity they’ve signed up for.

“All of us have been involved in dance from day one, and there was no real option of quitting, ever,” Halley says. “When I got into other things, it was never, like, ‘I can drop this because it’s too much.’ ”

Linda and Nick rattle off countless other reasons that their kids have benefited from dance.

They’ve learned to prioritize, to work around schedules, to follow instruction, to receive criticism, and to respect others. Although Nick admits that his kids aren’t complete angels, he does say that their commitment to dance has probably helped them steer away from the bad choices that teenagers often make when they’re sitting idle. He’s comfortable with their hanging out at DCDS, as well as with the countless friends that the kids have made there.

“When they get in the car and say they’re going to the studio, I don’t think much of it,” he says, “but when the boys get in the car and say they’re going to band practice, then we ask questions.”

Linda agrees that the kids’ time is much better spent at the studio than sitting around at home with the PlayStation or watching TV and says that last year she and Nick decided to follow their kids’ initiative.

They took salsa lessons and are now considering ballroom dancing. One day at the studio, Nick and Linda are asked what makes the “Ketchum Five” different.

At first they hesitate; then they say that their kids have always just been part of the studio. But as Linda looks around, at the walls covered in photos of some of her children’s proudest moments and happiest memories, she provides further explanation.

“Janet has said that this studio was built because of Halley wanting to dance,” Linda says. “We were, like, her first customers, and they have grown with her. “You look at these pictures on the wall, and it’s Ketchum, Ketchum, Ketchum. As far as setting them apart, I suppose maybe that’s it. There are five of them, and they work their tails off for Janet and for themselves and enjoy it.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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