Empowering kids to understand their bodies through dance
“What is that?” a bewildered young camper asks an AileyCamp Miami staff member upon seeing potato skins in the mashed potatoes on his plate. That child had only ever experienced mashed potatoes cooked from a box. But support from a United Fresh Start Foundation grant makes fresh mashed potatoes, along with a variety of other fresh fruits and vegetables, a reality for children at the camp.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this summer, AileyCamp Miami builds children’s confidence and overall health one dance step at a time. Each summer, campers take dance lessons in, and learn about the cultures of, jazz, modern dance, West African, and ballet over the course of six weeks, culminating in a final performance for a crowd of nearly 1,500. Pretty remarkable, considering most of the children have never taken a formal dance class before attending the camp.
Most of the campers come from underserved neighborhoods that lack access to fresh produce. Before receiving grants from organizations like the United Fresh Start Foundation, the camp didn’t have access to fresh produce, enduring erratic delivery service of frozen foods. Now, the camp employs a local caterer, serving warm breakfast and lunch each day with local fresh produce.
“You can’t take four dance classes a day and maintain that level of physical activity if you’re not putting quality, fresh food in your body,” Jodi Farrell, Senior Director of Foundation Relations at the Arsht Center, explains. “We teach the significance of proper nutrition, so we knew we had to walk the walk, and decided that the campers need quality meals, with at least two veggies at every lunch, including salad.”
And that’s the avenue through which Jodi and her team teach the value of fresh produce. Many healthy eating programs center around food, but at AileyCamp Miami, it’s a love of dance that leads to a love of fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Through their experience at AileyCamp Miami, campers understand that proper nutrition isn’t just good for their physical health, but that it helps them succeed with their passions.
The mentality fits squarely in AileyCamp Miami’s all-encompassing approach to health, which emphasizes the need for a healthy body and mind. In addition to dance classes, campers are enrolled in personal development and creative communication classes that stress the necessity of a solid mind-body connection for a healthy lifestyle. In these classes, staff help the campers tackle issues like bullying, eating disorders, conflict resolution and more.
Although the campers focus on preparing for their final performance, becoming more knowledgeable about their body, their mind, and the arts, is AileyCamp Miami’s ultimate goal for them.
“AileyCamp Miami utilizes the power of dance as a vehicle to develop life skills and strengths for children who don’t have access to the arts or summer camps,” Jodi states. “This camp is not intent on creating dancers, it’s intent on creating strong human beings that then go on and build stronger communities.”
By: Ben Massoud, Communications Manager, United Fresh Produce Association