AileyCamp Celebrates 25 years in Kansas City

Former Ailey principal Nasha Thomas-Schmitt with Newark AileyCampers

Though Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater enjoys super-star status as a company, its leaders know great dance often grows from humble beginnings. As part of the organization’s Arts in Education department, AileyCamp is designed to serve inner-city middle-school students nationwide. This summer, the oldest AileyCamp location, Kansas City, Missouri, celebrates 25 years of vital dance outreach. Other locations—from Miami to Newark—adhere to the same principles that have guided Kansas City for the past quarter-century.

Children must apply for the tuition-free summer camp, though dance experience is not a prerequisite. The most important attribute for students is the desire to learn and grow. Former Ailey dancer and director of the Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp David W. McCauley says, “[Alvin Ailey] gently reminded us of our responsibility to give our very best. Remember who you are, imagine who you wish to be, and give it your all!” He adds, “Mr. Ailey always said to his dancers, ‘You are all gods and goddesses!’” AileyCamp presents similarly supportive “daily affirmations,” or resolutions of love and encouragement, ceremoniously recited by a different camper each day.

The day camp offers classes in ballet, jazz, Horton technique, and West African dance, as well as workshops that foster self-expression and personal development. The program also provides counseling in nutrition, conflict resolution, sexual responsibility, and substance abuse prevention. Dancers participate in a culminating public performance at the end of the six-week session.

Photo by Joe Epstein, alvinailey.org

Teacher Voices
Getty Images

I often teach ballet over Zoom in the evenings, shortly after sunset. Without the natural light coming from my living room window, I drag a table lamp next to my portable barre so that the computer's camera can see me clearly enough. I prop the laptop on a chair taken from the kitchen and then spend the next few hours running back and forth between the computer screen of Zoom tiles and my makeshift dance floor.

Much of this setup is the result of my attempts to recreate the most important aspects of an in-person dance studio: I have a barre, a floor and as much space as I can reasonably give myself within a small apartment. I do not, however, have a mirror, and neither do most of my students.

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Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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