robert-battle_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

When it comes to dance with ethnic appeal, the standard has always been the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company.  Helmed by the company’s fearless leader, Judith Jamison, taking the company into the 21st century and soon to be handing the Ailey empire over to Miami native, Robert Battle. 

One of the branches of the company is the AileyCamp, where former company members and other dance and educational professionals donate their time, effort, and patience to underserved children in different cities across the nation.  These children learn to not only dance, but to also love themselves. 

AileyCamp Miami had its second annual performance, “Soulstice,” on Saturday, Aug. 7 at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami.

“It’s about teaching discipline and good decision-making,” said Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, National Director for AileyCamp, about the camp. 

The mission of the AileyCamp Miami is “to utilize the art of dance in an atmosphere of warmth, respect, and trust to develop self-confidence, creative expression, and critical thinking skills in young people.”  With camps in New York City and Staten Island, NY, Boston, Chicago, Berkley and Oakland, CA, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Bridgeport, CT, Thomas-Schmitt has her hands full. 

“The kids readily want to take her medicine,” said Adrienne Arsht Center CEO and President, M. John Richard about Thomas-Schmitt.  “She is the Czar of national dance camps.”  Thomas-Schmitt, who is graceful in appearance and moves like a professional dancer, has worked with the AileyCamp for 11 years. 

I made a promise to the Arsht Center not to review “Soulstice,” because it consisted of all children who shouldn’t be held to the same standards as professional adults.  However, I’m about to break that promise because the campers were simply too good not to be reviewed. 

“In all of my years, I’ve never seen these campers so nervous,” said Thomas-Schmitt on the evening of the performance.  “But, they’re nervous because they’re good.”  She wasn’t embellishing.  The show consisted of eight rousing performances; all of them entertaining.

While I won’t go into detail about the specific performances, I will say that the music was catchy and the dancers did an exceptional job.   Even the kids who flubbed their moves were great; flubbing gracefully and adorably. 

There are a few things I just absolutely loved about “Soulstice.”  Especially “Spring Soultice” with its classic ballet. “Woma Village” was full of classic Ailey Company moves and catchy music. “You Inspire Me” with its positive flow of energy, and AileyCamp’s rendition of Revelations’ “Wade in the Water,” were spectacular; made more so because all of the dancers are different shapes and sizes, and from different backgrounds. 
It’s nice to see different people come together for a common goal and their differences only enhance their performance

I got a chance to speak with a few of the dancers in the show: Dellayah Pleasure, 12, Ricardo Cruz, 13, and Fabienne Thurston, 12.  Cruz, who has decided to be the next Alvin Ailey, summed up the Camp in the best way.  He said: “My parents are very happy that I was in this camp.  Last summer, I stayed home and played video games.”

The positive affect of the AileyCamp extends past dance.  These children are also well-spoken.  I’ve interviewed quite a few celebrities and I have to say that these children speak quite well.  With their personal development and creative communication classes, along with dance classes, it’s obvious that these campers are on the right track to being the next great dancers, leaders, and whatever else they want to be.

“The audience sees the end product, not the attitudes that we get some days,” said Thomas Schmitt about the marked change in the campers from start to finish.  “But the audience shouldn’t see that.”

The great change in the campers isn’t just attributed to Thomas-Schmitt and the campers’ own hard work. 

There were 11 teachers and three administrators running a “very tight, clean” ship, according to Thomas-Schmitt. 

“The staff has a responsibility as role models,” Thomas-Schmitt said.  “We had a great group of kids this year.  Hopefully, everything they’re given, they use and it’s all worthwhile.” 

AileyCamp seems more then worthwhile; it’s a must.

Kimberly Grant may be reached at

For more information on AileyCamp and how to donate, go to

Photo: Robert Battle