GroovinХ In Grand Prairie

Instead of instructing campers to sit quietly and stop wiggling around, counselors at Grand Prairie, Texas Parks, Arts, and Recreation Department’s centers encourage their campers to get up and dance. In fact, counselors discovered dancing was so popular among children ages 5 to 15 that they created a “Theater Dance Day Camp” as a component of the programming. More than 500 campers took part in learning about theater concepts, dance, and fitness on a daily basis for six weeks to prepare for a special event—Theater Dance Day—in which they performed at the city’s historical Uptown Theater, a newly remodeled 1950s venue.

Creating A New Initiative

Incorporating a dance component into summer programming came to light when camp staff members realized how much campers loved to dance to their favorite Wii and Xbox 360 video games. And since various studies have proven that dancing fights childhood obesity by promoting movement and physical fitness, helps with coordination and self-esteem, and works on cardiovascular health, staff members thought it was a perfect way to teach campers that they can stay fit by doing something they love.

The initiative was introduced to all camp counselors at the pre-summer-camp training. Staff members were asked to incorporate dance as one of the daily fitness activities and to teach theater and dance concepts. Among the goals:

  1. All summer campers would take part in dancing as part of daily programming at the recreation centers.

  1. At least 50 percent of all summer campers would perform on Theater Dance Day.

  1. Campers would learn about concepts related to theater.

  1. Campers would be encouraged to continue dancing or pursue theater as a result of participating.

Counselors were guided by full-time recreation staff in researching and teaching concepts, as well as inviting guests, such as dance teachers, choreographers, and actors to speak to campers. Theater Dance was so popular that most counselors did not want to rotate to other programming areas.

Skills Beyond Sports

Since baseball, cheerleading, soccer, and football often dominate youth programming, the dance concept showed campers and their families an alternative in order to remain physically fit. The program also introduced the Uptown Theater as well as the dance and performing arts classes, including clog dancing, ballet, tap, hip-hop, creative movement, baton twirling, and Ballet Folklorico that the recreation centers offer.

Photo Courtesy of Bob Fitch/Grand Prairie Reporter - ©2012

The skills that participants acquired were innumerable, such as how to speak in front of a large audience and how different cultures celebrate the arts through dance. Campers also were introduced to theater etiquette and terminology. They learned about making costumes, like tie-dyed shirts and hair spray-painting techniques, using props, such as handmade signs, and making robots from cardboard.

Campers were given the opportunity to make the show their own  by selecting the songs to dance to, which incorporated an array of hip-hop, jazz, and contemporary dance moves. Campers worked with their counselors to choreograph routines based on Broadway productions, while other routines reflected the latest and most popular dance moves.

Break A Leg

Although staff members initially suggested having the performance at a recreation center’s gym, the decision to perform at Uptown Theater proved to be one of the highlights for campers, as they were able to work with the theater director in planning for the big day. After all, most campers never had the opportunity to perform on a real stage, let alone one on which The Temptations once performed.

Theater Dance Day began by transporting the “performers” to the venue by 9:30 a.m., where they were escorted to their own dressing rooms, which was quite an honor. After settling in, the performers and counselors worked on hair, costumes, and makeup, before they stretched and waited for their turn to take the stage for a dress rehearsal. Each recreation-center camp took the stage separately during the rehearsal to work on music, lighting, costume changes, and stage-placement issues. Following rehearsal, all performers were fed a heart-healthy lunch and then returned to their dressing rooms to await the start of the 1:00 p.m. show. Family and friends of the performers plus the non-performing campers began arriving shortly after noon.

After all of the campers performed, it was the counselors’ turn to take the stage. The campers loved watching their counselors perform and followed along, dancing in front of their seats to the most popular dances. After all of the performances were complete, a “cast party” was held in the lobby, where performers greeted family and friends and posed for pictures.

A Grand Impact

The summer of 2013 was the department’s second summer implementing the dance initiative. In 2012, the campers discovered they loved choreographing and performing so much that they wanted to make the show bigger and better. This wasn’t really a problem because many campers who chose not to perform the first year indicated a willingness to participate in the second year, helping in the sound booth, with the stage curtain, handing out programs, or ushering guests. Some even decided to dance on stage.

Among the costs was the four-hour fee for the lighting and sound technician and the purchase of refreshments for the cast party. The cost of transportation was included in the campers’ weekly field-trip fee.

The biggest challenge in implementing a dance component to summer camp was convincing those campers who did not want to dance in front of other people to still participate and learn. The program proved to be successful because it caused the department to reshape the manner in which programming was approached. In fact, it broadened horizons so much that a name change was more fitting—the Parks, Arts , and Recreation Department.

Mariana Espinoza is the Senior Recreation Supervisor for the City of Grand Prairie, Texas Parks, Arts, and Recreation Department. Reach her at .