When 9-year-old Harry E. packs his bag for the first day of choreographer Lydia Johnson’s dance camp next Monday, he’ll have just unpacked his suitcase. He and his family traveled close to 1,200 miles from Sarasota, Fla., and are renting a basement flat in Newark so that he can attend the unique two-week program.
“Most dance places, you practice the whole time, and they don’t let you be creative. In dance camp, you get to create your own dances that are original. At the end, you perform them, and no one knows what they’re going to see. It’s fun for the crowd and for the dancers,” Harry said.
The camp will be held daily from June 28 to July 10 at Maplewood's Burgdorff Center, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It's offered to a range of young dance enthusiasts from first to 10th graders and operates as a multi-age experience, where younger and older students interact and watch each other's works-in-progress. The camp is in its fifth year.
Lydia Johnson Dance is the dance company in residence at SOPAC. Her dance classes, popular year-round, are fundamentally different than traditional dance programs. “My feeling is that kids learn technique best in the service of their own creativity. Kids integrate technique into their own dances. It’s motivating,” said Johnson. “The presence of a professional company and the interaction with the dancers creates an understanding of the inner workings of dance,” Johnson added. Members of the company, supervised by Johnson, will teach the summer technique classes and serve as mentors at the choreography workshops.
A typical camp day begins with back-to-back ballet and contemporary dance classes, followed by choreography workshops, where kids work on their own pieces. In addition, hip hop and jazz classes taught by guest artists, a survey of dance history, and other special programs enrich the experience. Students may stay on from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Burgdorff Center to watch Lydia Johnson Dance rehearse for its upcoming week of performances at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in Manhattan from July 16-18 at 8 p.m.
And this year, since the camp runs in such close proximity to the performance schedule of the company, the young dancers will be able to witness the process of preparing for a professional dance season. They will take a backstage tour of the Ailey Theater and perform their own dances with professional lighting and sound on the Ailey stage, prior to the Lydia Johnson Dance performances.
“Dance makes me feel like I’m connected to the world in a new way,” Harry said, and dance camp enables kids to keep this connection alive.
Registration for dance camp is still open, through the Web site.