Ailey Camp at Adrienne Arsht Center empowers kids to pursue dreams of performing

When President & CEO M. John Richard arrived to head up the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts one of his first orders of business was to develop a relationship with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

Richard had an established relationship with the company from his days at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and made creating the Alvin Ailey Camp a priority. It was established in 2008, his first year at the Arsht Center and has been a tremendous success ever since.

The free, six-week summer day camp program this year welcomed 110 Miami-Dade County Public Schools middle school students ages 11-14 began June 27 and culminates with a finale performance Aug. 6 at the Arsht Center.

With a guidance counselor on staff, four dance faculty and two creative communications and personal development instructors, the students learn as much about dance as well as life skills. They learn West African, jazz, ballet and modern dance while also gaining knowledge about nutrition, conflict resolution, drug prevention and critical thinking.

They kick off each morning with breakfast, head into a morning meeting and then recite daily affirmations led by several of the returning campers before the dance classes. The experience of learning dance on the Arsht Center stage as well as their smaller spaces is priceless for the middle schoolers who come from Miami-Dade County’s underserved neighborhoods.

Alvin Ailey campers grace the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts stage during a class. Photo by Jusin Namon.

This year there are 22 returning campers and one of the counselors in particular Treyvon Sargent has one of the most heartwarming stories. Sargent attended the camp all three years while he was at Andover Middle. He eventually graduated from New World School of the Arts and is now in his second year at Florida A&M University. He is majoring in public relations and minoring in dance.

“I discovered the camp when I was at Andover Middle when even at 11 years old I already loved all types of dance,” Sargent said. That’s when he began to learn dance skills while attending Ailey Camp for three years.

“I focused mainly on modern dance and then branched into ballet at New World and focused on that,” he said.

Sargent received the best instruction possible at the camp much like this year’s students. They’re learning modern dance from Cheryl Rowley Gaskins, a former Alvin Ailey dancer and jazz from Valerie “Raistalla’ Moise who toured with Lady Gaga and Prince.

“We are employing local artists and teachers as instructors for this camp,” said Jairo Ontiveros, director of Education and Community Engagement at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. “Valerie was with us last year and loved it so much she came back for 2016.”

Just as important as the dance instruction is personal development, taught by Angie Bailey who leads the personal development classes. She teaches lessons on consciousness, openness and connectedness and joining those three points together.

She recites an affirmation of her own, telling the students “I can only connect to that which I am aware of.”

And there’s nothing better than hearing testimonials from the students themselves and their Ailey Camp experience:

Sojourner Sosa, 12 year old from Norland Middle School’s Magnet Drama Program: “I came here to strengthen my dance skills and I like the jazz class best. It’s really fun and helps build my self-esteem.”

Daniel Dailey, 13 year old from Doctors Charter in Miami Shores and a former student of Miami Arts Charter: “I was learning dance steps online, grew to learn modern dance and ballet I enjoyed it so much I came to the camp last year. This year has helped me learn more technique and helped me discover that I love African Dance.”

Celine Borreto-Alvarez, 14 year old who attends South Miami Middle: “I will be attending New World School of the Arts for high school focusing on theater. I am a first year attendee thanks to my drama teacher’s daughter who told me about the camp. She really sold me on it and on it building my self-confidence.” She goes on to say “I’m sad I wasn’t here last year, it has really helped me loosen up and control my balance and be aware of my body and surroundings.”

Sojourner, Daniel, Celine and the rest of the campers will show off their newly-learned or perfected skills on Saturday, August 6 at 7 pm during the #OneDream final performance at the Arsht Center.

For info on the camp click here.

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