Onica Barnes, 11, discovered the grace of classical ballet and the rhythm of jazz dance at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre's summer camp. But that was only a small part of what Onica learned. She learned more about herself.
Onica, of West Baltimore, said she gained discipline and self-esteem at the camp, which is housed at Morgan State University.
"The camp doesn't just concentrate on dance, but on discipline," Onica said. "It lets me know that I can do anything I want to do. It helps me discover myself."
The camp, sponsored by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation of Maryland Inc., ends tonight with a dance recital and readings at the Murphy Auditorium at Morgan.
The four-week camp offers 65 "at risk" youths lessons in dance, creative writing and personal development skills. It seeks to raise their self-esteem and confidence and develop their leadership abilities, organizers said. They also learn correct posture, not only for dance but also for their everyday life.
Sylvester Campbell, a dance instructor, said the rigorous ballet training gives the youths confidence and "helps them cope with whatever difficulties they may run into in life."
He said not all of the youths have the potential to be dancers, but they all have the potential to be leaders through discipline.
When camp began, recalled Onica, a seventh-grader at Booker T. Washington Middle School, she didn't like classical ballet and wasn't too thrilled about writing. Four weeks later, she's changed. "It's all discipline. I've learned not to give up on anything but to try it another way. I just try and try and don't give up," Onica said. "In creative writing, I get writer's block. Sometimes my mind goes blank, but I just keep on doing it. I don't write too bad."
The camp is free. Campers are provided two meals a day, transportation and dance attire.
Marsha S. Reeves, executive director of the Ailey foundation, said many of the campers are from poor families and unsteady home environments. Few had exposure to dance.
"The goal is to try to get children to leave here and be what they want to be," Ms. Reeves said. "There's something about dance that opens the spirit to receive. Dance is the vehicle for change as far as life, learning and development."
Tenise Dry, an effervescent 12-year-old from West Baltimore, favors modern jazz dance and the writing courses.
She found it easy to incorporate free-style, street dancing into the more choreographed jazz movements. "My mother says I get on her nerves because I dance so much," Tenise said. "But I like to dance, especially jazz dancing because it's a mixture of street dancing and modern jazz."