By Kristi Casey Sanders

When Diane Sales and Sarah Dubignon interview children for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s AileyCamp, they aren’t looking for kids who want to dance. “We’re looking for a child … who comes from a single parent home, who’s had very little exposure to the arts,” says Dubignon, The Fox Theatre’s outreach director.

Last year was AileyCamp’s first year in Atlanta. At a press conference announcing the program, Ailey Camp National Director Nasha Thomas Schmitt spoke about the philosophy behind it: “We’ll be working with preteens, ages 11 to 14. They are facing challenges in their everyday life, so we can provide a safe environment for them to stretch their bodies and minds, and develop important life skills. It’s a vehicle used to access a lot of things: development and communication workshops, and recreational and cultural fieldtrips. And, [it] helps develop leadership skills, and respect for themselves and others.”

Atlanta is the ninth AileyCamp. Other cities hosting the program include New York, Boston and Berkeley, Calif. The camp is free and is based on a six-week curriculum developed by Alvin Ailey. Local non-profit organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, recommend children be interviewed for the program; children also may apply through the Fox Theatre.

“We had four dance classes: jazz, modern, ballet and West African. The West African teacher was from New York, direct from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; the other teachers were local,” Dubignon says. “We had other classes, too: a creative communications class and an art class. And, a personal development class, where they discussed things like problems they have in school, how to speak up for themselves and stick up for other people. It was taught by a creative writing teacher, and they wrote poetry.”

After completing two weeks of camp, the 60 students performed dance and poetry for the public at host venue Grady High School. Two of last year’s students attended the Atlanta Ballet’s open call for the Big Boi world premiere project big and got cast. Fox patrons will be able to see the boys perform from April 10-13.

This year, AileyCamp will last four weeks, culminating with a public performance at The Fox Theatre on June 30. Eventually, the program will have 100 students and run six weeks. Until then, Dubignon and program director Sales are letting campers return, as long as they’re still in the targeted age range.

“They have to be re-interviewed,” Dubignon says. “We put the application on the [Fox Theatre] Web site with the stipulation that we’re not looking for children with previous dance experience. Last year, we saw children coming in who attended Woodward, heard ‘Ailey’ and wanted to come. But this program is not for them.” Dubignon suggests they apply for another summer outreach program: Camp Broadway, which offers Broadway-caliber dance and musical theater training for kids age 11 to 17.