Hi! My name is Meridythe Witt, and I’m a 2021 MMPAC alum and rising sophomore at Radford University, studying dance and percussion. During the week of June 27th to July 1st, I had the pleasure of teaching at Mid-Maryland Performing Art Center’s “Gotta Dance” summer camp for ages 6-8.
I worked alongside MMPAC senior Liz Lashley to create a five-day plan for a three-hour camp, which included a dance class, small history lesson, themed craft and games, and more. We led an engaging and inspiring week for our students, aiming to expose our younger students to some of the
most popular dance styles in the West. We alternated days of teaching; I taught ballet, modern, and tap class and Liz lead jazz and hip-hop instruction. We also supplemented the week with crafts and games, making paper crowns, dance dream boards, decorating sunglasses, and filling jars with wishes and goals for future dancing. Snack was always a hit, and our dancers enjoyed having a bite to eat while drawing with chalk outside.
On Monday, our six dancers arrived, eager about the week ahead. We started with a small “get to know you” activity, then transitioned into a condensed ballet class. We practiced standing tall at the barre, remembering our arm and feet positions, and then did some jumps across the floor. Some students that were enrolled in a PreDance class last year remembered all the French names for jumps in center! I then conducted a brief presentation on the history of ballet. Dancers giggled at the pictures of King Louis XIV in his Sun King costume. We watched a bit of the prologue from Sleeping Beauty as I sent my pointy shoes around for the students to see. Our day concluded with a crown craft used for a ballet dance, a snack and movie, and a small choreography session where I taught the dancers a ballet combination based on the Valse des Fleurs (Waltz of the Flowers) from Act I of Sleeping Beauty. I first performed a variation of the waltz ten years ago, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of music. I wanted to share one of the sparks of my love for dance with my students, and not surprisingly, all the dancers loved it too.
I also taught a creative movement and modern section during the week, where dancers made some “dance soup” by incorporating all sorts of movement styles in a freeze dance game. We pretended to dance in the jungle, or were leaves in the air, and we practiced some high- and low-level movement. I remember learning the basics of creative movement when I first began learning modern technique, and the feeling of freedom I got from dancing around the room was always one of my favorite parts of class.
On the final day of Gotta Dance, I covered tap and bits of musical theater with our students. Some dancers had never tapped before, so it was very rewarding to see significant progress within an hour. We focused on rhythm and tapping different parts of the shoe to the “beat,” and practiced stepping and clapping to the music successfully. We also watched some selections from “Singing in the Rain” and “La La Land” to discuss the connections between tap and musical theater. Gotta Dance concluded with an informal showing that gave parents a comprehensive recap of the week, with brief ballet, jazz, hip hop, and tap dances, along with some tumbling exercises and a “goodbye” dance. Our parents and dancers were pleased, and a couple of dancers “wished we could do this all summer!”
My dance training and background began in Irvine, California, where I fondly remember wearing a scrunchie on my left foot to differentiate it from my right in ballet and performing 100 flaps in a circle in little Mary Jane tap shoes. I enrolled in a conservatory-style studio around 11 years ago after relocating to Indiana, focusing mainly on ballet. I experienced the joy of week-long camps spent learning all the dances within our “contemporary” Nutcracker which was performed each fall. I was first introduced to modern and jazz dance in my middle school years.
Through my time at three different dance studios and now a college dance program, I can say that MMPAC students are given a dance education unlike any other dance studio near you. At MMPAC, the development of personal and professional skills and comprehensive pedagogy are valued just as much as flexibility, lines, and stamina. MMPAC provides the best summer engagement for students, structured in brief, week-long sessions filled with choreography and cross training that conclude in an informal showing. This makes our programs feel more special and rewarding because they aren’t structured like our normal year, and students will often get the chance to try new styles during camp classes. I have never seen younger students so excited about attending class, and as a young dancer, I would have dreamed of going to this kind of summer dance camp.
MMPAC has shown for over 30 years that the arts are incredibly powerful in development. Our students are enthusiastic, attentive, and hard workers. I left the week with more problem-solving skills and more confidence in my classroom teaching. Kimberly Price continues to support her students after they graduate with numerous opportunities, professional experience, and connections to the professional world, and I would not be aspiring to dance professionally if it weren’t for all the mentorship from MMPAC. It’s been a pleasure to work with our younger dancers, and I love giving back to the studio.