Anne Arundel summer dance program conveys confidence as well as technique

The Baltimore Sun

Just a jog or a jump can ignite knee pain for Sydney Meilstrup.

Sydney, 14, who is about to enter ninth grade at Severna Park High School, has been diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease — common in growing children — since last September. The ailment causes inflammation of the kneecap tendon that attaches to the shin bone, according to the American Academy of Osteopathic Surgeons.

So this week she was a bit nervous to attend the Summer Dance Intensive, a four-day program run by Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ renowned dance program.

Her concerns vanished within a day of joining about 100 other students at Old Mill High School in Millersville, learning techniques behind ballet, jazz and modern dance. She learned a routine that she said isn’t bad on the knees, and credited the program’s instructors with setting her at ease.

“The instructors are great,” she said in between lessons Tuesday. “They help me and they allow me to rest when I can't dance any more. It helps me kind of face my fear of, like, injury in general.”

Some of those benefits beyond dance moves — confidence, discipline, patience — are what instructors hope students take with them when they leave Old Mill at the end of the camp, said Nicole Deming, who oversees special programs offered through AACPS’ dance division.

This week’s summer classes culminate with a performance at 7 p.m. Thursday evening at the school that’s free and open to the public.

Ten instructors help teach the program, which is held in two separate, four-day sessions over the summer for students from the fourth grade to high school. The cost is typically $300 per dancer, according to the program’s website. The program doesn't turn people away, Deming said.

Interest has grown over the program’s seven or eight years of existence, Deming said. Their ideal is to accept about 100 participants to keep class sizes small.

On a typical day, students are instructed on the basics behind ballet, jazz and modern dance during a morning session. After lunch, students pursue dance of their choice, which includes tap and musical theater.

Most students don't come to the program with aspirations to become professional dancers, Deming said.

“But if they establish relationships and (have) lifelong appreciation for the arts as an adult, I feel like we’ve been successful,” she said.

On Tuesday morning the students — mostly girls, but also one boy — performed leaps and spins on a stage and in other spaces across the high school. In one room, middle-school-aged girls watched their peers perform snippets of a modern routine. Their instructor asked them to note the specific movements they saw.

In a large gymnasium, Andy Grammer’s “Fresh Eyes” played as a dozen 9-year-olds did pirouettes, initially out of sync with each other. After about five turns, they started to look more uniform.

Down the hall, an instructor asked her students to do the “hug” move. “But what’s the modern term?” she asked the dancers.

They were quiet until she said, “Spi...” In unison, the youngsters shouted, “Spiral!”

This was the first time attending for Samantha Lavallee, 10, a rising fifth-grader at Benfield Elementary School. She said she loves performing and has danced for about seven years. But modern dance was new.

“I’ve never done modern, but it sounded really fun,” Samantha said. “And when I started, it was really fun.”

Asked if she had made friends at the camp, she started listing the girls at the table behind her — Penelope, Violet, Josie — turning to see who else was there.

For Sydney, who is attending the summer program for the third time, friends are a big part of why she loves it as well.

But she admits her favorite moment happens at the end.

“I love the moment when you step on the stage and you look into the audience, and the light shines down on you and feel the attention on you,” she said. “It’s just great.”

If You Go

The culminating performing of the Summer Dance Intensive will be held 7 p.m. Thursday at Old Mill High, 600 Patriot Lane, Millersville. The event is free and open to the public.

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