Alvin Ailey was one of the most respected choreographers in the history of American dance.
He said: “Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.”
He died almost 25 years ago, but his legacy lives on through his company -- and through summer camps called AileyCamp around the country, including in South Florida.
AileyCamp Miami is hosted at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The camp is free to the 100 campers ages 11 through 14 who come from underserved communities in Miami-Dade County.
Jairon Ontiveros, director of education and community engagement for the Arsht Center, says the camp is designed to use the arts to teach other lessons.
"It's all about personal development, so we use dance as the vehicle to develop their self-esteem," he says.
The campers excitedly recite 10 positive affirmations each day.
"I will not use the word "can't" to define possibilities," is one of the affirmations.
Ka-Leah Beck embraced that idea when she experienced West African dance for the first time at Ailey Camp.
"It made me feel good because I accomplished something I never thought I could," Beck says. "I used to be shy. I was quiet, I wouldn’t try anything new."
Ka-Leah's sister Anniyah Beck is also a camper. She says the camp taught her how to better manage her emotions when she's frustrated or upset.
Now, Anniyah says, "Before a problem starts, I calm myself down."
At a recent rehearsal, young dancers stood on stage waiting for their cue. At the sound of the live rhythmic percussion, they transformed.
Their bodies gave in to the ecstatic drumming. Heads bobbed in rhythm, while arms and wrists flailed. Their torsos flexed and swayed.
"In West Africa, every dance has a meaning, a purpose," says Trina Soumare, the West African dance teacher for AileyCamp.
Soumare says the dance the students were rehearsing taught them about geography, history and language of the Susu people of West Guinea.
The dance has different parts; a section that tells the story of transitioning into young adulthood, a femininity dance and the campers also sing a song in the SuSu language.
The AileyCamp kids are expecting about 1,8oo people in the audience for their debut Saturday night.
Soumare has the students run through the dance again. It has to be just right for their final performance -- just like any professional company.
AileyCamp will present its end of summer performance, "Legacy," at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Find details at ArshtCenter.org.