Carroll dancer featured in book supporting the National Parks

Ayla Flowers is pictured at Delaware's First State National Park in the new photography book "Dance Across the U.S.A."
Ayla Flowers is pictured at Delaware's First State National Park in the new photography book "Dance Across the U.S.A." (Courtesy photo)

At 2 years old, Ayla Flowers began dancing alone in her room; by 6, she was performing competitively, and now, at 10 years old, the Westminster resident is going to be featured in a guide to dancers across the entire country as one of the highlighted figures in the new book “Dance Across the U.S.A.”

The book will feature images from all 48 continental National Parks, with dancers ranging in age from 5 to 61, including men, women, professionals, amateurs and teachers. Photographer Jonathan Givens said he was interested in capturing a wide variety of styles of dance as well from, hula and Native American folk dances to ballet, tap and jazz.


“We wanted dancers that were representative of each of the states, and I wanted to capture the face of what dance is,” Givens said. “Not everybody is an elite dancer. I wasn’t choosing the greatest dancers I could get. I didn’t just want somebody who was beautiful, I wanted somebody that embodied dance.”

Ayla said she’s been dancing for as long as she can remember. She said due to her nonstop dancing, her mom decided to take her to start taking lessons. She said her favorite forms of dance include contemporary, jazz and musical theater.


“I feel like in American contemporary, you can express you emotions and I really like that,” Ayla said. “Jazz is also really fun to dance, though. I like that I can show off my stuff.”

Ayla’s mother, Amy, said the photo shoot came about after they saw a post on Facebook seeking dancers for a fundraising photography project. The two took some of their own photos and recorded videos and submitted it to the Dance Across the U.S.A. project, a mere one of 3,000 hopefuls trying out for the book.

According to Givens, the initial field of 3,000 was narrowed down to 300 for the second round. After asking for another series of videos and photographs the 300 were narrowed down to the final 48, including Ayla.

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Originally Ayla was scheduled for the Maryland shoot at Assateague Island, but when the date conflicted, she was shifted to Delaware’s First State National Historic Park.

Ayla said during the shoot she had to go all over the park, since there’s no one iconic landmark that defines it. She climbed on rocks, danced through the woods and even got down in the water. She said she loved seeing how the photographs eventually came out.

“It was difficult and it took a while to get the right pose and the shot at the right time,” Ayla said. “It was difficult, but at the same time it was really fun.”

Givens said Ayla was one of the standout dancers in the entire project.

“It was a hodgepodge of locations which made it different than a lot of parks,” Givens said. “We started off in this one field and she was like, ‘You want me to dance here with the horses, really?’ We wanted to put dancers in places we had never put dancers before.”

During the shoot, Givens said Ayla was a trooper, never giving up and always willing to try something new, even after falling into a river.

“She is a beautiful dancer, but she’s even a better collaborator,” Givens said. “That’s one of the most complimentary things you can say about a performer. She was a great subject to work with.”

According to Givens the idea for the project came about when he saw a project that provided a driving route through all 48 states. He said he thought the idea sounded fun, but he wanted to find a way to give back as well. That’s when the idea for “Dancers Across America” struck.

“I’ve spent a lifetime working in dance, and I wanted to give something back,” Givens said. “Proceeds from the book are going to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Parks Service.”


Givens said this wasn’t his first time traveling the U.S., but it was his first time traveling 22,000 miles in 90 days. He started his career as a performer, touring with more than 30 Broadway productions as a dance captain before transitioning into technical work and becoming a master carpenter for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He said it was Oprah herself who first inspired him to take up photography.

“This whole aspect of my career came up when Oprah told me I should start taking pictures of the things I was creating,” Givens said. “When Oprah tells you to do something, you do it.”

Amy said one of the neatest parts of the entire experience has been the network that’s been built between the various participants.

“Last weekend we went to a dance event in Seattle, and two of the dancers there had participated in the same project,” Amy said. “It is so cool to be able to connect with them on the other side of the country. It’s neat that a part of this project has been this supportive dance community that he’s created.”

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