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Camp helps dancers reach higher personally, artistically

Level II dancers (from left) Claire Hutson, Mary Virginia Meadows,Xada Ingram, Zoe Coon and Kendall Burt let down their hair and let it whip while performing a sassy salsa number as part of their World Dance studies at ‘Elevate’ camp.

Level II dancers (from left) Claire Hutson, Mary Virginia Meadows,Xada Ingram, Zoe Coon and Kendall Burt let down their hair and let it whip while performing a sassy salsa number as part of their World Dance studies at ‘Elevate’ camp.

Elevate (v): to move or raise to a higher place; to lift up. To raise to a higher intellectual or spiritual level.

“Elevate” was the name of the recent dance camp held at Sonya’s Dance and Fitness Studio. It’s also the goal the camp’s instructor Courtney Rice, daughter of studio owner Sonya Rice, had for her pupils during their week together.

“I want to elevate each of these girls so they can see and realize their artistic, creative and personal strengths,” Rice explained during a break in last Saturday afternoon’s final session.

Sonya Rice said she’s enjoyed reversing roles with her daughter and playing dance camp assistant this year.

“I am so proud of Courtney both as mother and as her mentor and teacher. The kids got an awesome education and I got to sit back and just step in to help as needed. It’s been a great week,” the studio owner said with a grin.

Each day, Tuesday through Saturday, Level 1 (ages 7-11) met for a three-hour morning session while Level II (12-18) attended a four-hour afternoon session, with the girls experiencing much more than dance instruction, Courtney Rice explained.

“We have explored world dance, including Bollywood, Latin salsa and Caribbean dance, and we watched segments from a number of different dance films to broaden their knowledge of dance culture. It’s amazing just how many different kinds of dance we see in commercials, on TV and in movies,” Rice said.

“We also spent some time working on specific techniques for jumps and turns.”

For the trained Reiki practitioner, it was also important to add a spiritual component into the week through meditation, yoga and journaling. Rice and her students also daily discussed the importance of good nutrition and having a positive mindset.

“Really it’s all about caring for yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually,” Rice explained. “I wanted to help the kids become more introspective through these practices.”

The dance camp students explored the visual arts through a “body ballerina” project for the younger group (“to help them develop positive body images”) and vision boards (“to allow them to surround themselves with images of what they want to be and do in the future”) for the older students.

Rice put her film editing skills learned in college to good use through a couple of ambitious projects.

“With the younger girls, they had to choreograph a few steps of a dance conveying a specific strong emotion and we integrated that into my group choreography,” Rice said. “We used stage makeup to create these great comic strip pop art faces expressing happiness, sadness, anger and so on.”

Rice then videoed and edited their “animated” performance.

Each of her Level II students was challenged to create a one- to two-minute video using iPhones or iPads.

“They started by coming up with a narrative story to tell through dance or by choosing a particular emotion they wanted to explore in the video,” said Rice. “And it couldn’t, for example, just be ‘scary.’ They had to ask themselves, ‘Why is it scary? Are you running away from something or someone, or are you the scary one? And why are you scary?’”

The dancers then scouted locations around town to choose where they wanted to shoot their videos. “Once they had their location, they had to come up with site-specific choreography; in other words, integrating the architecture, the furnishings, into the dance—this window, this wall, that banister,” explained Rice.

The students chose the music for their video soundtracks and created storyboards for each shot and angle to be videoed.

“The girls had to work with partners; as one girl shot the video, the other girl gave her specific directions on which angles to use, when to start and stop videoing. So everyone got the experience of actually directing a film,” she said. “The process required using their critical thinking skills as well as their creativity.”

The final (“and the toughest part”) was editing their video footage into cohesive mini-movies, which they shared with one another and with both the Rices.  The final video projects for both groups will be put on DVDs to share with their parents.

“The girls did such a fantastic job with this project and I really feel the learning process involved is something they can put to use in other areas of their lives,” Rice said.

She truly hopes the dance camp will ultimately be a life-changing experience for all the participants.

“For me, dance is less about technique than it is about emotion, the intensity, how it makes you feel. Over time and with practice, the technique will come,” Rice explained. “I wanted to help these girls get back to that place they knew when they were very young. When they still felt free, not so self-conscious and inhibited.  To be willing and ready to step out of their comfort zones in order to grow.”