Behind the Scenes at the AileyCamp Summer Dance Program

By Aneesah Dryver  

Ailey Camp students taking a break on the Zellerbach stage. Photos by Adam L. Turner.

AileyCamp, a nationally recognized summer program, has been teaching the art of dance to underserved Bay Area youth for 11 years, and the camp is still going strong. Co-sponsored by Cal Performances, the six-week camp provides instruction in world dance forms and other creative arts, as well as self-esteem building. Classes include West African dance, introduction to ballet, jazz dance, personal development, creative writing and communication workshops. The camp was created in 1989, starting in Kansas City, Missouri. Since then, it has blossomed and spread throughout the country to New York City, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and other cites “Berkeley’s camp definitely has its own flavor,” said Berkeley/Oakland camp director David McCauley. “We are blessed to be on the UC Berkeley campus,” he said. “Students are really integrated into the community here. They have breakfast and lunch provided by the dining commons. “We do a scavenger hunt that takes them around campus where they are interacting with some of the students on campus. I think that being on a college campus sends a message to the students that says ‘this is for you.’” McCauley noted that even students who arrive at the camp with a negative attitude are completely transformed by the end of six weeks and the final performance. “There is a lot of structure involved with the camp, and the students see the value in it and want to positively change,” he said.

AileyCamp students

Alli, 13, a current Ailey camper, said she wants to continue with ballet after taking the camp’s ballet class. Tamara McCree, 23, was one of the original Ailey campers in its first year in 2001, and Spencer Pulu, 20, was a camper in 2005. Now, they are both group leaders for a new batch of AileyCampers and want to continue to incorporate dance into their lives. Tamara plans to audition for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Spencer is studying dance at City College in San Francisco and wants to open up a nonprofit dance school for at-risk kids. AileyCamp alumni can attest to the positive impact the camp has made on their lives. “I was one of the huge troublemakers at camp,” Tamera said, laughing. “But I got it together. One thing that I learned was patience, coming from a background where I fought a lot and learning that I couldn’t do that here. “It’s just amazing that this one little dance camp that they brought to Berkeley one year, can be here all this time and change all these lives. It helped us find ourselves,” Tamara said. Spencer agreed, explaining that dance has expanded his horizons. “Dancing wasn’t seen as masculine for males, and I was made fun of. But I broke a lot of boundaries at home,” Spencer said. “My family saw that this was something I wanted to do in life. AileyCamp really helped me find my path.” “Infinite Possibilities/Colors” is the dual theme for this year’s final performance.

Priya Shah (right), AileyCamp ballet instructor, teaching a student a ballet move.

“The theme came about for me because of the sometimes overwhelming negativity of society when really, there’s a wealth of possibilities out there if we put our creativity and our hearts into it,” said McCauley. “The camp means a lot to me,” he said. “Sure, there are difficult times, but I think it’s a phenomenal program, and I wish more students had the opportunity to be in a program like this. So support your arts and education.” For information go to
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