Podcast transcript: AileyCamp — so much more than a dance camp

[Music: “The Zeppelin” by Blue Dot Sessions]

You’re listening to Fiat Vox, a podcast that gives you an inside look at why people around the world are talking about UC Berkeley. It’s produced and hosted by me, Anne Brice, a reporter for Berkeley News in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

As a kid, Makayla Bozeman could not stop dancing. Even if she tried. But she didn’t try because she loved it so much.

Makayla Bozeman: I remember when I was little, I used to go to sleep really late because I was dancing. Then I’d wake up at like three in the morning to dance.

It was a way she expressed herself. Something that she just had to do. Something that helped her realize that if she tried hard, she could succeed.

Makayla: Dance is the one very consistent thing about my life. And I’ve done all these things and I’ve been told, “You’re not really the best at this. You can’t do that.’ Dance is the one thing where I’ve been confident in myself. I know I can do this. This is my way of expression that I can show myself to the world.”

So, when was 13, she applied to AileyCamp. It’s a six-week summer program run by Cal Performances at UC Berkeley where 11- to 14-year-olds from the East Bay learn dance from professional choreographers.

[Natural sound: Modern dance instructor teaches students]

There are 63 campers this year, who all take ballet, modern, jazz and African dance classes. And they take two others — creative communications and personal development.

They start early in the morning and participate in five 50-minute sessions every day.  

Every morning begins how all of our mornings should begin — with affirmations.

[Natural sound: Campers read affirmations — I will greet this day with love in my heart… I am a winner…

There are 10 of them. They’re all great. But my favorite one comes at the end:

I will not use the word “can’t” to define my possibilities… (everyone claps)

David McCauley has been the director of AileyCamp at Cal Performances since it began at Berkeley 17 years ago. He says the program is about so much more than learning to dance.

[Music: “Titter Snowbird” by Blue Dot Sessions]

David McCauley: Personal development is really the heart of what AileyCamp is about. It’s really not about making the youngsters into professional dancers, although we give them the most professional training we can do.

Some of them have observed things that I really don’t think any child should have to. But sometimes they’ll need a way to think about that, to work through it. 

But he says not everyone comes in with big problems they need to work through. Just being that age can be hard enough.

I remember being in middle school very well. I was extremely small — I was 4-foot-8 and maybe 85 pounds when I was 14. I kind of wanted to disappear, and seem like I didn’t care about anything.

But deep down, I wanted to succeed — to get good grades and be liked. David says AileyCamp helps them navigate this complex and confusing time in their lives.

David: And so, it’s to learn to take a breath. To think about what you’re about to say. Make sure you’re saying the right thing and that you’re also thinking about your part in it. If something has happened, you know, that it’s not just one way, you you you. There’s also the “I” that’s involved in that and that is sometimes a difficult one for the campers to realize.

Anne: Right. I mean, it’s difficult for adults to recognize a lot of the time… (laughter)

David: Yeah. (laughs)

Anne: It seems like everyone would benefit a lot from going to AileyCamp.

David: I get a request for adult AileyCamp all the time.

[Natural sound: African drumming, instructor teaches dancers]

The first AileyCamp started in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1989. Now, there are 10 across the country. The idea for the program came from Alvin Ailey, the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

David was a student and performer with the company from 1976 through 1989. He says the way Alvin Ailey lived his life continues to inspire his own work with AileyCamp.

David: Just the way that he was with his dancers, with his students, with employees, was very very special. He cared a lot. He cared about excellence and he cared about people doing their best. And because that was given to me, I really feel like that’s something that needs to go on. Because some of them don’t have that. Some children just don’t get it.

So, for those of us who have been lucky enough to have that in our lives, I think we need to make sure that that doesn’t go out. That it stays alive. And maybe you ignite that in the next person.

[Natural sound: Fast violin music, modern dance instructor teaches students]

Since AileyCamp began at Berkeley, more than 1,000 campers have gone through the program. Everything is paid for by Cal Performances — meals, bus rides, dance clothes, field trips, which they take every Friday — so it’s totally free to the campers.

For Makayla, it became a home away from home. A place she could be herself.

Makayla: They don’t judge you based on where you come from or what you’ve done. They really accept you into their place, into their area. It’s a really safe environment where you can learn and grow.

At the end of six weeks, campers give a final one-hour performance at Zellerbach Hall for family, friends and the community. It’s a time for them to show off their hard work and their dedication to being the best they can be.

David: It’s like, things you never dreamed of are waiting for you. You just have to open your eyes and try and go for them. All of this is open to you. Any place in the world, anything you want to do. But you have to look for it. You have to believe you can do it. And then do it. Just fight for it.

[Natural sound: Modern dance instructor teaches students]

The application period for next summer’s program starts in January and will run through mid-February. To learn more, visit calperformances.org.

For Berkeley News, I’m Anne Brice.

You can subscribe to the Fiat Vox podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For more UC Berkeley News, visit news.berkeley.edu. And if you have a great story idea, send us an email at news@berkeley.edu.