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AileyCamp Baltimore offers more than dance lessons to campers

Kwami Shaka Opare leads a West African dance class.

Kwami Shaka Opare leads a West African dance class at AileyCamp Baltimore.

“Five, six, seven, eight … ”

West African dance instructor Kwami Shaka Opare counts the beat for the youth attending AileyCamp Baltimore, held at Towson University June 19 through July 3 in the Center for the Arts.

Fifty Baltimore City underserved adolescents have an opportunity to experience the Alvin Ailey philosophy of dance and personal development.

“AileyCamp is not only about dancing — it’s about growing up strong and healthy and ready to take on the world,” says Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, director of AileyCamp Baltimore and associate professor in TU’s Department of Dance.

“Mr. Alvin Ailey, founder of AileyCamp, wanted kids to feel the rush of accomplishment and learn the discipline of dance,” says the former principal dancer with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “Mr. Ailey believed dance came from the people and it should be given back to the community.”

AileyCamp thumb

Students participate in an AileyCamp in New Jersey.

The mission of AileyCamp Baltimore is to utilize the art of dance in an atmosphere of warmth, respect and trust to develop self-confidence, creative expression and critical thinking skills in young people ages 11-14. AileyCamp Baltimore does not aim to train students to be professional dancers but instead challenge the campers to strengthen their sense of self.

“Campers participated in 15-minute interviews —not a dance audition,” explains Fisher-Harrell.

“Most of the 11 to 14 underserved youth have experienced financial challenges, family challenges, are adopted, have a family member incarcerated, or other emotional or life challenges.”

Campers participate in daily classes of modern, ballet, jazz and West African dance conducted by professional dancers; creative communication classes featuring journalism, poetry, visual and performance art; and personal development classes providing counseling in nutrition, prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, development of self-esteem, sexual responsibility and conflict resolution.

“The camp is free,” adds Fisher-Harrell. “Breakfast, lunch, snacks, leotards, tights, slippers, backpacks, water bottles – everything is provided.”

AileyCamp Baltimore is one of nine across the United States. It is funded through donations, corporate sponsorships and continuous fundraising by Fisher-Harrell and her corps of volunteers. Towson donated the building and space for the camp’s use.

“Alvin Ailey provides a level of excellence that these kids are exposed to,” says Fisher-Harrell. “Students feel it, appreciate it and know it’s an enormous gift.”

Gifts to the program are welcome. Visit the camp’s website for more information.


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