Camp teaches dance and discipline

August 03, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Head high, shoulders erect, Samuel LeSane stands stoically before his dancers. "Let us begin," he says. The 22 dancers move fluidly for several counts.

Then two collide at mid-stage.

"This is not what we want to do," Mr. LeSane says dryly. "Think about what you're doing. This is discipline."

Learning discipline and staying focused are primary themes of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre camp at Morgan State University. During the six-week program, about 85 youths ages 11 to 14 learn various types of dance, as well as creative writing and personal development skills.

"Dancing is not all there is, and we let them know that," said Mr. LeSane, 34, a Baltimore native and 1979 graduate of Walbrook High School. "We try to prepare them for the world and to make the right choices."

None of the youths at the camp is an aspiring dancer, said director Phadelma Ashley. In fact, she added, a prerequisite for the camp "is not to have a dance background."

Youngsters at the camp, which is free, come from the Baltimore area and were selected after they submitted a questionnaire and were interviewed. They are provided two meals a day, daily transportation and dancewear.

The camp uses dance to spark self-improvement and build self-esteem, Ms. Ashley said.

"Personal development is the theme of the camp and dance surrounds it, it has a discipline, it has a sense of focus and concentration," she said. "With the actual instruction of dance is an example of the kind of outlook we want to encourage in our campers."

Mr. LeSane, who danced for two years with the world-renowned Alvin Ailey dancers, said he can see a change in some campers.

"These kids come here and they need to feel good about what they're doing," he said. "I see them when they walk in on day one and some are very hostile towards me and each other.

"Everything is negative -- 'I can't, I can't' -- when you ask them to try something. To me the reward is seeing them say, 'At least I will try.' We try to instill in them how to be the best they can be."

Gabriel Buchanan, a 13-year-old Woodlawn resident who has been dancing informally for four years, said he is still surprised at the amount of concentration, commitment and trust needed to succeed in dance.

"Some dances we do, you have to trust each other to be there," he said.

Mixing other courses with instruction in ballet, jazz, modern and African/Caribbean dance, suits Lekeisha Butler just fine.

"I like the dancing, but I like to write, too," said Lekeisha, a lithe 12-year-old student at William H. Lemmel Middle School. "I try to tTC do as good in writing as I do in dancing."

The camp received its $150,000 funding primarily from the Maryland Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Abell Foundation. In its third year at Morgan, the camp ends Saturday and then begins a two-week run at Frostburg State College in Western Maryland.

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