AileyCamp, the nationally acclaimed summer program that uses dance as a means to stretch the minds, bodies, and spirits of middle-school students, took over The High Museum of Art on Sunday, July 9.
In partnership with Purpose Built Schools Atlanta and aligning with Mayor Andre Dickens’ “ATL Year of the Youth” initiative, AileyCamp Atlanta focuses on developing self-esteem, creative expression, and critical thinking skills while engaging in a variety of dance techniques including ballet, Horton-based modern, jazz, and West African dance.
AileyCamp represents and uplifts youth in 10 cities nationwide, including Atlanta. As the last program Alvin Ailey started before his passing in 1989, AileyCamp embodies Mr. Ailey’s mission of using dance as a vehicle to positively impact youth and provides a safe space to stretch their minds, dream big, and take steps towards a successful future.
Nasha Thomas, National Director of AileyCamp and Spokesperson and Master Teacher for Arts In Education gave opening remarks at Sunday’s presentation, including what AileyCamp stands for and what kind of “life tools” they help to instill in the young people they serve. Thomas added that not only is AileyCamp a “life-changing six-week program, but it’s completely free.”
Mike Davis, CEO of Purpose Built Schools, joined the presentation and shared, “This partnership is a tremendous example of why collaborating with arts organizations is critical for our city. Purpose Built School’s mission is to cultivate our students’ skills in pursuit of their unlimited potential.”
In January 2023, Mayor Andre Dickens gathered representatives from Atlanta Public Schools, the city, the police department, and local nonprofits to go over his plan to make Atlanta the “best place to raise a child.” He is now continuing that pursuit through the ATL Year of the Youth initiative.
“We want to make sure that our young people have the opportunity to thrive, not just survive, within these types of programs that we’re doing,” Dickens said. “Year of the Youth is designed to provide opportunities for young people to follow their passion and enrich their lives. Thanks to AileyCamp, Atlanta youth can do just that.”
Dickens added: “Together, AileyCamp Atlanta and Purpose Built Schools Atlanta will allow these young people to learn from some of the nation’s leading dance instructors, nurturing their talents and, in turn, contribute to our city’s thriving arts and culture community.”
In an interview following the presentation, Nasha Thomas commented on the reasoning behind AileyCamp’s collaboration with the City of Atlanta and the “Year of the Youth” initiative. “One of the great things about partnerships and partnerships that mean something, and work, is because your mission is aligned,” Thomas shared. “[Dickens] wanted to focus on the youth, and the most important part of AileyCamp is the AileyCamp Campers.”
Performers from AileyCamp shared a dance sampler sneak preview of highlights from their upcoming final performance, including a performance inspired by Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle’s bravura work “Takademe” and their guiding daily affirmations such as “I will pay attention with my mind, body, and spirit,” and “I will not use the word ‘can’t’ to define my possibilities.”
Joy Pigg, Director of AileyCamp, summed up the presentation by sharing what she hopes the AileyCamp participants take away from their experience each year. “Within the six weeks, we really want to make sure we strengthen their sense of self. It is a dance camp; however, our focus is to make sure they know how special they are, how unique they are, and that they have natural gifts, talents and abilities”, Pigg elaborated.
The theme of this year’s AileyCamp was “perspective.” Pigg added: “We wanted to make sure that they understand that everyone has a perspective, but when we bring them all together, we can create something beautiful.”
All camps culminate with a special final performance for family, friends, and community leaders, where the AileyCampers showcase their hard work in original productions of choreographed dances, poetry readings, and theatrical improvisations.
To commemorate the metro area youth’s transformations and accomplished goals this summer, AileyCamp Atlanta’s final performance will be on Saturday, July 15, at Charles Drew Charter School at 7 p.m.