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AileyCamp: From New York City to Seattle

Posted May 31, 2023

AileyCamp is a Life-Changing Program of Dance & Development 

From New York City to Seattle, AileyCamp changes the lives of children ages 11-14. Campers have the chance to master movement and freely express themselves as they dance, drum, and create. Instructors and staff craft a fun and nurturing environment that provides children with a safe space to expand their individual growth and develop respect for themselves and others. 

Nasha Thomas, who danced with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1986 to 1998, is the National Director of AileyCamp. Over her nearly three-decade tenure, AileyCamp has expanded and thrived. It currently runs in ten cities: Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Berkeley/Oakland, California; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas City, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Miami, Florida; Newark, New Jersey; New York, New York; and Seattle, Washington. 

AileyCamp is funded by donations, which makes it possible for children to attend for little to no cost. “The program is really for children whose parents do not have the resources to attend a top-notch arts-immersed quality summer camp program,” says Thomas. “I don’t think there are many others like this.” 

AileyCamp’s Origin Story 

Alvin Ailey founded AileyCamp to give young people the opportunity to improve their well-being and help them achieve their highest potential. “Mr. Ailey had discussed the idea of an arts outlet for kids with a group of educators, dancers, and former Company members like George Faison and Hope Clarke,” Thomas shares. “He already had The Ailey School where people could train, along with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II, but he really didn't have anything for youth.” 

Through his partnership with Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, a non-profit that supported many of his initiatives, the first AileyCamp opened in Kansas City, Missouri, in the summer of 1989, just a few months before Mr. Ailey’s untimely passing. 

Inside the AileyCamp Experience 

Every summer, Thomas develops a universal AileyCamp theme “which brings everyone together and focused in one direction. This year is perspective,” she explains. The theme is then woven into the entire curriculum, which has a heavy emphasis on personal development and creative communication. Personal development classes offer guidance on goal setting, nutrition, and conflict resolution, as well as career and leadership development. Creative communication classes include visual arts-based workshops, creative writing classes, and projects focused on helping Campers develop their own form of personal expression. They also experience dance classes in a variety of styles such as Horton-based modern, ballet, jazz, West African, and tap. 

Along with a roster of guest speakers and special workshops, each city strives to offer their campers something extra. “In Miami, our summer lunches are donated through a catering company and the kids enjoy a great diet,” Thomas says. “In a couple of cities, campers perform on the same stages where Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform. Some heavily invest in costumes and sets. I'm always looking for ways to enhance the experience for the camper and to inspire them.” 

AileyCamp’s Summer Finales  

Ailey campers close out their summer experience with a performance of dance, drumming, and poetry for their family, friends, and community leaders. It highlights the creative and technical skills they developed over the summer and serves as an exciting display of their increased confidence. “They have a great sense of pride and accomplishment when they get on that stage and perform,” Thomas declares. “Parents come out to support and it’s extremely rewarding.”  

I think [Alvin Ailey] would be immensely proud of where the camp is now.

AileyCamp: 35 Years Strong

For more than 30 years, AileyCamp has reached thousands of underserved children across the country, offering direction and hope to those most in need of knowing there can be a bright tomorrow. As the program prepares for its 35th anniversary in 2024, Thomas is proud of how far it’s come and what it can do in the future. Even with changes that have happened over the years, Mr. Ailey’s initial vision for AileyCamp stays the same. “The mission, philosophy, and quality are still there,” Thomas says. “I think he would be immensely proud of where the camp is now.”

Want to learn more about AileyCamp?   Explore More

Our ability to fund AileyCamp for campers and their family is due to generosity from patrons like you.   Support AileyCamp

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