AileyCamp 2016 — where kids spin, twirl and grow

AileyCampers hone their skills for Thursday’s big performance. (UC Berkeley video; footage courtesy of Cal Performances, editor Stephen McNally)

“I want to show the kids that you might not be at where you want to be now, but if you keep practicing you’ll be the best dancer that you want to be.” So says Zion Reynolds, a 16-year-old mentor for the East Bay middle school kids who are dancing their way through six weeks of AileyCamp on the UC Berkeley campus right now.

AileyCamp has spun its magic at Berkeley for 15 years, and touched the lives of some 900 youngsters. Reynolds was a camper himself in 2013, and you can read more about his experience below. Kids come in on full scholarships from Berkeley, Richmond, Oakland and Albany to develop their dancing and creative expression along with personal skills like critical thinking and self-discipline.

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Now, campers are now gearing up to bring their hard work to a peak with a performance of “The Beauty of Their Dreams” on Thursday, Aug. 4, at Zellerbach Hall.

Modern dance master Alvin Ailey himself conceived the camp, and it is locally produced by Cal Performances.

“Cal Performances is strongly committed to artistic literacy as a goal of our community and education programs,” said Matias Tarnopolsky, executive director of Cal Performances. “Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp realizes this vision every summer by immersing a large group of children into the world of the performing arts though dance.” More information about AileyCamp is posted on the Cal Performances website.

Admission is free, and tickets can be obtained at the Cal Performances Ticket Office in Zellerbach Hall. There is a limit of four tickets per person. Call (510) 642-9988 for ticket information.

Here’s what two of this year’s participants, and two mentors, have to say about the experience:

Desmond O'Shea

Desmond O’Shea

Desmond O’Shea, 14, freshman at Berkeley High in the fall

What do you hope to learn at AileyCamp? I hope to learn different styles of dance. I wasn’t particularly sure what every class was when I came here, but so far it’s pretty cool.

What have you learned so far? So far I’ve learned how to dance in different styles. Right now we’re doing different types, jazz and ballet; it’s pretty cool.

What do you aspire to be when you grow up? I don’t know, I don’t have any long-reaching goals I just hope to improve and get better in what I like.

What is the most important thing you learned at AileyCamp? How to work with others, because it’s important — especially in dance — that everyone is on the same page and doing the same thing, or else someone is going to fall, stuff like that happens all the time.

What was your most positive experience? That’s a hard question because most things we did at the camp were fun, so it’s hard to pick only one.

How does theater/dance fit into your life plans? I’m not sure if I’ll do dance and theater for a living, but I do plan to continue dancing and acting. Even though I’m not very good at acting, camp has taught me to keep on trying.

Rose Hurd

Rose Hurd

Rose Hurd, 12, Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, Berkeley

What do hope to learn at AileyCamp? I want to learn new styles of dancing and different ways to do the styles.

What do you think you have learned so far? Different ways to do the styles and more advanced ways to do the styles.

What do you aspire to be when you grow up? I’m not really sure yet, but I’ll figure that out as time goes on.

What is the most important thing you learned at AileyCamp? That persistence and practicing are the keys to getting the best results.

What was your most positive experience? Meeting new people and really getting to know them throughout the weeks, and getting to know what they’re like, their different skills and weaknesses.

How does theater/dance fit into your life plans? Well, I’ve always been interested in theater and dance, but I feel like it’s going to be more serious now. For me to look out on what I want to do when I’m older, definitely going into those plans would be a good direction for me.

Do you see yourself pursuing art as a career? Yeah, I think dance is mostly what I’m leaning towards, but I do love theater a lot as well.

Zion-Reynolds300Zion Reynolds (mentor), 16, Oakland School for the Arts, transferring to Sheldon High School in Elk Grove in the fall

When did you attend AileyCamp as a student and what stands out most about your experience? I went to AileyCamp in 2013. I wasn’t as good of a dancer as I think I am now. As I went through AileyCamp I got more training and I’ve gotten better throughout the years, especially after going through AileyCamp. After AileyCamp I got opportunities like going to OSA for two years, dancing for the Warriors and also dancing with one of the group leaders, Spencer Pulu.

What do you hope to convey as a mentor? Positive leadership. I want to show the kids that you might not be at where you want to be now, but if you keep practicing you’ll be the best dancer that you want to be.

How are the campers doing now? If they keep practicing they’ll get where they want to be, and everything will flow and the positions will come together and the show will be fantastic.

How does theater/dance fit into your life plans? When I get older I want to become a backup dancer, and one field I’m trying to go into is dance, and also business administration. I’m going to use those two tools together because when I’m older I want to create a famous dance convention where everyone comes, it sells out every year… and that’s a big goal of mine that I want to accomplish. So dance is a big thing for me, as well as theater because you need to know how to project and act while you’re dancing.

What is your advice to campers? Make sure you practice every day, stretch at home every day, and keep a positive attitude all day every day.

Ainsley Walker

Ainsley Walker

Ainsley Walker (mentor), 15, Marin Academy

When did you attend AileyCamp as a student and what stands out most about your experience? I went to AileyCamp in 2013, and I remember the dancing, of course, but also all the friends I made. I was one of the only ones who didn’t know anybody coming in, so it was pretty cool to make new friends.

What do you hope to convey as a mentor? Hopefully positivity and inspiration. Hopefully some of the kids here will keep dancing — that would be pretty amazing — and just to see them enjoy their time here because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

How does theater/dance fit into your life plans? Dance is always going to be a part of my life, if I’m not physically dancing I’m going to be learning about it, researching, watching… It’s always going to be part of my life. Hopefully I can incorporate it into college and it could be my minor.

How has AileyCamp affected your life? AileyCamp has made me more confident in dancing, and definitely given me the opportunity to take classes with some of the amazing teachers here. It’s given me valuable connections — modern dance instructor Derrick Minter knows a lot of people in the Ailey Company so he’s a good person to talk to.

I have also danced with AileyCamp ballet instructor Priya Shah outside of camp — she’s a really good teacher, she’s always telling me what I should work on and I’m really happy to listen, and I just love dancing. It’s really fun to work with her.

Was AileyCamp the first time you danced? I danced a bit when I was younger, but I’d taken a break before AileyCamp, so I was familiar with the material but I hadn’t done it in a while.

What is your favorite class at AileyCamp? That’s hard to narrow down! But I’d say ballet.

What is your advice to campers? Remember to work hard, the performance is going to be great, stay focused like you have been doing and it will be awesome.