At 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, the lucky 21 Topeka participants in the Kansas City, KS Ailey Camp may not feel so lucky. While they’re friends rollover for a few more Zzzzs, they’re up and at it, in order to catch the bus for the one hour drive to Kansas City for seven hours of class.
In class, “they work harder than they’ve ever worked before,” says Monique Pittman-Lui, a longtime AileyCamp supporter.
She’s right. The six-week camp, for middle school students only, is intense and athletic. Each day, from 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., the campers participate in six classes. While most of the classes focus on dance: ballet, modern, jazz and tap, the students also take classes on “the technique of performance, creative communication and personal development. However, along the way, the students learn so much more.
“Dance is just a medium to teach them greater life skills” said Tyrone Aiken, Chief Artistic Officer for the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey.
Program participants learn discipline, the value of hard work, and they’re challenged in ways they’ve never been challenged before.
“AileyCamp is very pivotal in a lot of their lives,” said Pam Hausner, director of marketing of KCFAA.
With such great lessons, its great that AileyCamp targets under-served communities. The camp is totally free of charge for participants, with KCFAA making sure to remove all barriers to participation. So in addition to free tuition, campers receive free transportation, meals, and clothing for both classes and the year end performances.
Participants are selected through an application and interview process. Besides need, the selection committee is looking for desire and the students ability to stick with the camp. Will they be able to attend all six weeks of the camp, or do they need to be gone for family trips or other camping experiences.
There are two AileyCamps each summer in Kansas City: the Kansas Camp is held at Cornado Middle School and the Missouri Camp is held at Paseo High School. Each camps is supposed to have a maximum capacity of 100 students, but this year both camps are over capacity. Thanks to a relationship with the Topeka Chapter of the Links, each year, 30 spots in the Kansas Camp are reserved for Topeka students. This year, there are just 21 Topeka participants.
AileyCamp isn’t restricted to Kansas City, there are eight additional AileyCamp locations across the country, but Kansas City is the only permanent full-time location for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater outside of New York.
In 1983, Ailey was looking for a second home for the dance ensemble and he considered Kansas City, Atlanta and Los Angeles. When he came to Kansas City, he fell in love with the community’s jazz culture and Kansas City became the second home of Ailey in 1983. Next year will be the 30th year for the Missouri AileyCamp. The Kansas Camp is 17 years old.