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Local Students Love Lydia Johnson Dance Camp

Aspiring young dancers learn the craft at two-week camp with noted choreographer.

Lydia Johnson Dance is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. This spring, the company's highly praised performances at the South Orange Performing Arts Center and Ailey Citigroup Theatre in New York City have lifted the barre for the South Orange-based company. The troupe is also sharing their talents and knowledge with area students during a two-week dance camp.

Jeremy Summerville, the camp's Ballet instructor, sailed through the air, gracefully twirling while seemingly sinking a three-pointer in the style of Lebron James. While showing camp participants his form, he easily impressed the young dancers who are participating in the camp under the tutelage of choreographer Lydia Johnson, the founder and artistic director of Lydia Johnson Dance.

"It looks like he hovers," Johnson said of Summerville's jumps. "He's unusually buoyant."

The professional dancers have been sharing their talents this summer with 45 aspiring dancers. Many of the students are attending on scholarships thanks to generous donations by Patricia A. Bell and The Garden State Arts Foundation. The camp takes place at Maplewood's Burgdorff Center, so strains of popular and classical music invite campers' parents in for a daily peek.

At Dance Camp on Thursday, Guest Artists Jessica Sand and Lisa Iannacito performed excerpts from LJD's repertory, including new work set to J.S. Bach's Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin.

"The way these two dancers move is so expressive and within the music," Johnson observed. The work premiered this spring with eight dancers and Johnson compared their dance to an orchestral duet between a violin and cello.

"Watch how the two parts harmonize with each other and see how the counterpoint evolves," she said.

Lydia Johnson Dance has been consistently praised for its distinctive choreography, with reviews in The New York Times, Backstage and Oberon's Grove. It is the choreography component of the camp that attracts many of its students.

"I always only wanted ballet," said Yulia, an 8-year-old. "But I love the choreography and getting time to express myself and to show what I really wish with dance."

The camp appeals to many longtime dancers. Emma Bolles-Beaven, 19, returned this summer after a year at college to work as an Intern. "LJD is awesome because dancers of all different ages can have fun and learn at whatever level they come in as," she said.

Repeat dancers include 10-year-old Harry, who travels from Florida to take part in the classes; and Maya, a 12-year-old who has taken classes since she was six. Dancers from the Columbia High School special dance company are among the teens assisting this summer.

Instruction includes Ballet, Contemporary and Hip Hop. "I found out how interesting Contemporary can be," Yulia said. Professional dancers from LJD lead classes and inspire the young dancers. "They make me want to learn fast," said Britney, 10. "They're watching out to see how I'm doing and if my posture is correct."

LJD believes that technique is best learned as children use their creative energy to compose their own dance works. The process was just beginning last week as students began work on choreographing  their own pieces.

Sherrell Bush, the camp's Assistant Director, was working with one group, teaching a young dancer the proper position for a lift. Johnson addressed her remarks to older dancers. "You can make your shapes move you across the floor," she said.

"Watch how the professionals turnout," Johnson instructed. "Look at the clarity of the shapes, the beauty of what they are doing."

Their movements were reflected in the mirror at the Burgdorff Center as they danced a phrase they have practiced many times over. "Dance is repetitive," Johnson told her students. "If you want to be good at it, you have to rehearse and take class over and over for years!"

Lydia Johnson Dance has been seen in regular NYC season for 10 years and is also the Company-in-Residence at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. They have recently appeared on the Downtown Dance Festival and the Inside/Out Series at Jacob's Pillow.

The fall semester for aspiring dancers begins in September.

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