When I think about the past six months, I can’t help but feel both dizzy and grateful. In early March of this year, I was in the middle of collecting applications for AileyCamp Baltimore 2020 in preparation for our interview session which were planned for April 2020. Then the coronavirus shutdown happened. Towson University and life as we knew it went virtual, sending any future planning into turmoil. Since that day, I’ve considered myself in a perpetual state of professional development.
The ever elusive nature of the virus and a vague idea of how to move forward in it put everything into question. Would we be able to meet face to face? In early April, social distancing, children, and camp didn’t sound likely, therefore, I had to accept that camp just might be canceled this summer.
Through a series of discussions between Nasha Thomas, the national director of AileyCamp and my AileyCamp Baltimore team here at TU, we started planning a Virtual AileyCamp Baltimore. There were so many questions to consider when planning a virtual camp; we were all in uncharted territory. How many campers could we enroll and realistically monitor on a virtual platform? What kind of corrections and detailed instruction could we offer to beginner campers? How could we ensure that our campers wouldn’t get injured? Could we successfully inspire and motivate our campers virtually? Would all of our campers have access to a media device or a hot spot? Would our campers have enough space to move fully? Could we deliver the same curricular components that make AileyCamp uniquely successful?
Furthermore, would our partner Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) be interested in the virtual program? Would all of our planning be an exercise in futility? As luck would have it, BCPSS reached out to us in April about a potential virtual program—YES!
Planning anything in a pandemic is relative to building a house during an earthquake.
Nothing is for certain and every plan seemed to be undone as soon as it was made. Despite all the obstacles, we were able to offer a free, four week Virtual AileyCamp Baltimore for 40–50 returning campers from Baltimore City Public Schools. To prevent any injury, we only took returning campers first; those who had a basic understanding of the expectations in each technique class. As we began accepting campers, we extended our invitation to our returning campers who were 11–16 (our threshold is normally 14) and new campers who had previous dance training.
Camp hours were 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. every week day from July 13 through August 7. We were able to deliver the same curriculum of ballet, modern, West African, jazz, creative communication (a visual arts focused class), and personal development. Our campers received uniforms (t-shirts and shorts), art supplies, media holder, water bottle, and notebooks. BCPSS offered devices and hot spots to any student who needed it in their district. We were even able to host an open house for our parents and funders and an end of camp performance!
I wouldn’t have thought it possible before, but we created a warm, safe, and creative space for our campers. The amazing staff challenged our campers’ possibilities and expectations while empowering their sense of self. We even offered virtual guidance counseling for those who needed it.
My lessons from this experience
Never say never and never say “no, it can’t be done.” Stay liquid in your thinking as there’s always another means to an end. I am so grateful for TU for allowing the program to move forward on a virtual platform and especially to my AileyCamp Baltimore team here at TU, Anne Greene, grants and contracts specialist in OSPR, and Geannine Callaghan, director of strategic initiatives and foundation relations, for helping me work out the logistics and keeping me sane throughout camp planning.
There can never be a substitute for face to face connections. As an artist, the pandemic has put a stop to so many activities that are the backbone to our industry. Connecting directly with our classes, the audience, and the community—that’s the heart of what artists do. On the other hand, I have never had to be more creative in my entire life.