Teaching self-discipline through dance at AileyCamp Baltimore

By Rebecca Kirkman and Henry Basta on August 20, 2019

Six years in, TU summer dance program's impact on Baltimore continues to grow

For the past six weeks, Towson University’s Center for the Arts has played host to nearly 70 middle school-aged dancers for AileyCamp Baltimore.

In a typical day, they will express themselves through visual art projects, learn about West African countries through song and dance, practice ballet and jazz techniques and tackle tough topics like the impact of drugs and alcohol in their lives.

“The mission of AileyCamp Baltimore is to teach self-discipline, self-respect and self-esteem through the discipline of dance,” says Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, AileyCamp Baltimore director and TU dance professor. “It’s a very encouraging environment. We’re giving kids a clean and safe place to come, and to explore, create and discover things about themselves.”

In its sixth year, AileyCamp Baltimore is one of 10 AileyCamp programs across the country that give underserved children in the community the chance to experience the Alvin Ailey philosophy through disciplined dance training, creative writing instruction, personal development and communication workshops. As one of only two AileyCamp programs held on a university campus, the camp also gives students a taste of college life.

The camp meets students where they are, and creates a welcoming, safe environment to learn about themselves through their bodies.

“There are some campers who do not know their right foot from their left [when they arrive],” says Fisher-Harrell, who was a principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater before joining the faculty at TU. “And here they are dancing ballets, doing a modern piece, learning West African dance, learning West African songs while they’re dancing. That’s pretty remarkable.”

AileyCamp provides an opportunity for TU students and alumni, many of which are studying dance and dance education, to apply their skills right away through a summer job as a camp instructor.

“I get chills,” says camp ballet instructor Amber J. Merrick ’10 of the students’ final performance. “I remember the first day when rhythm was not a thing and everybody had two left feet, and so I’m really proud of them for the growth, and I think they are really proud of their growth as well.”

This year, a partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools made the camp free to middle school students attending a Title I Baltimore City Public School. (Title I schools qualify for a federal program that provides assistance to support the academic achievement of disadvantaged students.)

“We’re very proud of that, because we want that connection with the city. We want to have that direct impact on kids from Baltimore City Public Schools,” Fisher-Harrell says. “I was born and raised in Baltimore City. I went to Baltimore City Public Schools all my life. I always tell the kids, ‘I’m from Baltimore, too.’ That’s my connection to them—I am Baltimore, you are Baltimore.”

The Ailey spirit returns to TU on Sept. 14 for two performances by Ailey II, the younger version of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The touring company combines the best young dance talent with the top emerging choreographers. Tickets available now.

Ailey II Returns to TU

Under the artistic direction of Troy Powell, artists perform an exhilarating and diverse repertory that includes Alvin Ailey’s timeless classics and thrilling new works by today’s outstanding emerging choreographers.

Ailey II
September 14, 2019
2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Stephens Hall Theatre
Get tickets

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: BTU-Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.