After 10 years of serving Miami-Dade students, the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ailey Camp is celebrating in a big way with the addition of a mentoring program, new hip-hop elements and a partnership with the city’s famed Thomas Armour Youth Ballet. The camp, which welcomes students from underserved communities throughout the county, provides everything from transportation to breakfast, lunch and dance uniforms. Post-camp, the Center continues to foster relationships via reunions and special activities. “It’s also important to give campers the opportunity to continue the friendships forged during the Arsht Center’s AileyCamp,” says Jairo Ontiveros, the Center’s assistant vice president of education and community engagement. We spoke with Ontiveros recently about the creation of the Ailey Camp program, the importance of diversity in dance and what’s on the schedule for the upcoming school year.
What was the spark to create AileyCamp and what was the process of making it a reality?
The original spark came from our president and CEO, John Richard. When he first came to the Center, the leadership team made a commitment to deepen the impact of our duty to education, community and engagement. John had a longstanding relationship with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from his time at New Jersey Performing Arts Center and helped the Arsht to forge a partnership with the extraordinary Ailey company in 2009. The whole process took approximately two months – a process fast-tracked significantly because of John’s previous relationship with Ailey.
How has the program evolved over the past decade and what are you most proud of?
Our first camp launched in the summer of 2009 with 100 campers, six of whom were boys. This year, we have 110 campers, out of which 30 are boys, so we have definitely seen a progression as it relates to gender. We are proud of the way our curriculum has evolved by making sure we’re paying attention to what is going on in the schools and ensuring everyone feels comfortable and open to share their thoughts and concerns. Our faculty and staff bring expertise into our program development, since many of them are teachers in the school system. We discuss important topics such as conflict resolution, cyber bullying and drug prevention and weave them into our curriculum, while ensuring the camp still maintains its fun atmosphere.
You are launching a mentorship program this summer. Tell me a little about some of the alumni who are participating.
The mentoring program consists of alumni who have been involved with the program since we opened AileyCamp Miami. This year, they will be working closely with ten campers from the leadership group, which is made up of campers who return or experience the program for more than one summer. This group is integral in shaping the program for the upcoming summer. Two standout leaders include an alum from 2009, who is now a medical student pursuing cardiology, and an alum from 2013, who created her own nonprofit organization at her high school. These alumni can relate to these campers and work with them in their creative communication class and their personal development class and can offer tips for applying to college to help them pursue their aspirations and dreams.
Miami is an incredibly multicultural community. How has that influenced the program in terms of offering new and different styles of dance?
At the core of the program we will always teach modern dance and ballet, but we were also very interested in West African dance because it is Miami-centric and a part of our history. There’s a lot of love for West African artists here in Miami in dance, drumming and music, and the kids truly love it. We’ve also expanded our program to include different workshops, such as hip hop, while also paying attention to the different dance genres that are popping up.
What do you see for the future of the program over the next 5-10 years?
For us, it’s about sustainability and making sure this program is endowed to continue to create an impact. We want to see our mentorship pool grow with our alumni and connect campers who have completed the program and have applied the tools they’ve learned in their own lives to help lead the current campers on a path to success, whether it’s starting their own nonprofit, taking their talent to the Miami City Ballet School or pursuing a degree in medicine.
Jairo Ontiveros photo by Justin Namon