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Dance, Dance, Dance - Atlanta Ballet summer program held at GSU
Megan Guillen, 17, right, and Hannah Toshie, 15, find some veg time between sessions during the Atlanta Ballet's Summer Intensive Tuesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    “Who’s felt something they’ve never felt before? Who understood a concept they’ve never thought about before?”
    Heather Greene Conley, an instructor for the Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Education’s Summer Intensive program, posed those questions to a group of young ballet dancers in Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center Thursday afternoon.
    A few tentative girls raised their hands.
    “Good,” Conley said, “I’m glad some of you are getting it because I’ve been working with you girls for 45 minutes on this concept!”
    The girls, who range from ages 11-18, came from all over the world to be a part of the Atlanta Ballet’s prestigious dance camp, and they have trained around the clock for nearly two weeks in Statesboro.
    “I feel like I’ve grown so much and it’s only been two weeks,” Callan Candler, a 16-year-old camp participant, said.
    The Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Education sponsors several camps called “summer intensives” that are held in various cities around the Southeast every summer for young dancers between the ages of 11-18. Georgia Southern has played host to one of the summer intensive sites since 2005.
    According to the Atlanta Ballet’s Web site, the summer intensives, “focus on developing well-rounded dancers by exposing them to a wide variety of disciplines with an emphasis on classical ballet technique.”
    While much of the focus is on ballet, Whitney Hinson, 18, a counselor for the camp, said one of the most valuable aspects of a summer intensive dance camp is the fact the girls are taught modern, jazz, hip-hop, musical theatre and tap dancing techniques, as well. In fact the tap lessons are unique to the Statesboro camp.
    “When a dancer is exposed to a wide range of dances at a young age, it helps her to grow to be a more well-rounded dancer,” Hinson said. “Having that variety of knowledge and skill just helps a person to be able to become a great performer.”
    Emily Hagar, 18, another camp counselor, said that young dancers often improve the most during summer intensive camps.
    “During summer intensives, you have the opportunity to take instruction from a variety of new teachers,” Hagar said. “These instructors often explain a technique or a concept in a different way from your teacher in your home studio and it will just ‘click’.”
    The 46 camp participants are grouped according to age and skill ability and trained in small groups in multiple sessions each week for the duration of the two-week camp. The Centre for Dance Education employs four dance instructors to teach the rigorous sessions. At the end of the two weeks, the girls showcase what they have learned in a performance for the public.
    Jazz instructor Kristen Jansen, who co-owns a studio with her husband Troy, said the training is similar to how an Olympic athlete must train.
    “When these girls are dancing every day, learning new techniques, and using repetition of their muscle memory, there are bound to be huge improvements,” Hansen said. “Summer programs are about the dancers getting out of their comfort zones. The training they receive here ignites their passion to take what they’ve learned back to their home studio.”
    While many dancers said one of their favorite parts of camp was the fun of learning new dance styles and making new friends, some of the dancers remain focused on their future in their particular field of dance.
    Carrie Petrak, a 16-year-old dancer, will have attended at least three different summer intensives by the end of the summer.
    “I have been getting shipped off to different dance camps since I was 13,” Petrak said. “But, you know, the hardest things and the most valuable things go hand-in-hand. I want the whole dream of being a professional dancer. I love learning all the different styles because it helps my techniques, but I’ll always be a ballet dancer.”
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