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Seton Keough hosts fundraiser for dance camp at Towson University

Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, an assistant professor of dance at Towson University and director of AileyCamp Baltimore, teaches the Lester Horton technique to Seton Keough dance students. (Lauren Loricchio/Baltimore Sun video)

For slightly over an hour on Thursday afternoon, a group of 30 Seton Keough High School students stretched, leaped and pliéd across the school's gym under the direction of Towson University assistant professor Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell.

"How are you doing?" said Fisher-Harrell, to the group of teenage girls, who collectively responded with a demure "good."

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"Are you sure, because you don't sound confident," Fisher-Harrell said back to the group of dancers, who resounded with a more animated "good."

The dance students learned the Lester Horton modern dance technique from Fisher-Harrell during a special one-time class, part of a fundraiser being held by Seton Keough dance director Serene Webber for AileyCamp Baltimore at Towson University.

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"As part of establishing our own National Honor Society for Dance Arts at Seton Keough I wanted our students to have a service project to give back to something in our own community," Webber said before the instruction began.

"I was lucky enough to go visit the Alvin Ailey summer camp and just walked away very emotional seeing the way this program helps kids that may not have the opportunity to go to summer camp," Webber said.

After the lesson from Fisher-Harrell, director of AileyCamp Baltimore, students in the National Dance Honor Society at the school held a concert fundraiser at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium.

Tickets were $10 and the program included performances from professional dance companies Collective Dance Company and Deep Vision Dance Company, along with students in the Seton Keough High School Dance Company, Webber said.

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"We think it's important for the girls to be involved in service-learning projects," Webber said. "It's nice to tie it into a passion of theirs."

AileyCamp Baltimore, founded last year, is a free summer camp for underserved youth between the ages of 11 and 14 in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, said Marissa Berk-Smith, a spokeswoman for Towson University.

The camp first began in 1989 when it was established by choreographer Alvin Ailey. Last year, the programs were offered in nine cities including Baltimore, according to information on alvinailey.org.

While the camp has no income requirement, it often serves children from low-income households, Berk-Smith said.

To gain entry to the camp, kids are interviewed, Berk-Smith said. Interviews will be held at Towson University this year on March 28.

"You can tell when a student is struggling or has a challenging background, is in a single parent household, about dreams that they have for the future," Berk-Smith said. "That is what we really base our entry on."

Berk-Smith said the camp instills hope in its participants.

"We really work so hard to create a family dynamic within that group," Berk-Smith said. "They learn so much about themselves through the process of learning about their bodies."

"Body image is everything in middle school, so it's not only absorbing all of that information, but knowing how to respond to it in a positive way. Dance is just the tool that we use," she said.

Fisher-Harrell, a professional dancer with a long resume of accomplishments including 13 years as a principal dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, echoed Berk-Smith.

"Dance is hard — you learn that through the practice of it," Fisher-Harrell said. "You apply yourself, you work hard each day and you see gradual improvement."

In order to improve you have to commit yourself to the practice, which is how kids learn personal development, Fisher-Harrell said.

Catonsville resident Rebekah Lopez, a sophomore at Seton Keough learned that lesson on Thursday afternoon.

"I was nervous at first, but it really taught me a lot of new stuff," Lopez said. "It was just a good experience overall."

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