Heading into summer, arts programs and camps are up and running for kids

It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Boston, bringing many people’s lives and activities as they knew them to a standstill. Now that more people are receiving the  vaccine and more is known about the virus, many of those activities have opened back up with rules and regulations in place. 

If you’re looking for activities for kids in Jamaica Plain, there are many programs available, especially as summer approaches. The Gazette spoke with Tony Williams of Tony Williams Dance Center, as well as Mary Ehrenreich, who runs the Kids…Together in the Arts!!! summer camp at Spontaneous Celebrations, to learn about what they have to offer.

TONY WILLIAMS DANCE CENTER

When the pandemic first hit, Williams shut down his dance classes, which are offered mostly to children. In the summer, he was able to run a modified version of his usual dance camp, and then begin his fall semester with masks and distancing last September. 

In the fall, enrollment was down from its normal level, and Williams said that it still generally remains at that level, but “it’s creeping up. We’re happy about that,” he said. 

He said that parents still aren’t allowed in the reception area, and have to just drop their kids off for their classes. Masks and distancing are still required. 

“It’s been positive for the children to have an opportunity to come into live classes just for their mental state,” Williams said. There was no recital last year due to the pandemic, but one is being planned for this year, albeit virtual, he added. 

He said that each class will be recorded performing the dance the students have learned, and families will be able to watch the recital on Zoom as it’s happening. 

He said he believes that there is “pent-up demand” for kids to take dance classes, and he’s “hopeful” that with more vaccinations, a sense of normalcy will return. 

Williams is still offering a hybrid in-person and Zoom model for some of the dance classes. “Most of our kids take more than one class a week,” he said, in which case one of those classes would be on Zoom. In the morning, there are open professional adult ballet classes taught by professional dancers.

“There’s a sort of hidden population of professional ballet dancers” in Boston, Williams said. These classes are offered both in-person (with 8-9 people) and on Zoom, so there’s a special challenge for the instructor to have to teach people in person and on the screen at the same time, he said. 

Enrollment is now open for the summer dance camps, which Williams said he’s been doing for nearly 20 years. Last year, the camps were able to open for two weeks with 12-13 kids in each week, compared with the usual 20. 

“It was a sign that there’s a real need for the young people to have their social activities,” he said, adding that the sign-up is going well so far. 

There are three weeks of “fun camp,” where kids ages five through 12 learn different types of dance, such as tap, modern, and jazz, and then there is a small performance at the end of the week where friends and family can watch the dance that the kids leaned. There is also one week of “ballet intensive camp” for kids around ages 10 and 11. 

The camps run Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm, with the performance on Friday towards the end of the camp day. 

Williams also has a nonprofit called City Ballet of Boston, which has a dance apprentice program with a “strong outreach for kids of color,” he said,, as there is a “need to have more diversity in the ballet world.”

The program is for youth that “really want to possibly have a career in ballet,” he said. “Part of what I’m trying to do is bring that diversity more to play with training youngsters in Greater Boston and Boston.”

He added that the group is “penciled in to go back to the Shubert Theater “with some sort of a hybrid run,” this year, where the performance will be live and can also be shown virtually. 

The Tony Williams Dance Center students along with the Boston City Youth Ballet apprentices recently had their first live performance since before COVID on April 10 at the First Baptist Church on Centre St. The performance also featured live projections onto the church facade behind the dancers. 

The entire event was outdoors and socially distant, where several dances were performed on the asphalt driveway in front of the church while family and friends sat distanced on the lawn to watch.

Williams said that people going by on Centre St. in buses and cars were also able to see the kids dance as well.

“It was just such a release of joy for the dancers to perform and also for myself and my staff,” he said. “I could see in the eyes of the audience” that it was the first time they’ve been in a live setting for a performance in more than a year, even though it was outdoors. 

“It was really cool,” he said. “It was a great, great response.” 

He added that while it is certainly important to ensure that businesses and restaurants stay open in light of the pandemic, the arts hold a special place in the hearts of many, especially for youth.

“I think theater and music and all of that really have to come back, because it’s sort of the soul of human beings and we just need to keep that going.” 

For more information about Tony Williams Dance Center and its programs, visit tonywilliamsdancecenter.com. 

KIDS…TOGETHER IN THE ARTS!!!

Kids…Together in the Arts!!! is a summer camp run by Mary Ellen Ehrenreich, who started the camp about 20 years ago when she discovered there was no camp in Jamaica Plain for her young daughters who were more interested in the arts than sports. 

As a K-12 art teacher with a masters from Boston University in studio teaching, she decided she could start a program like this for her daughters and other kids who had an interest in the arts. 

“A lot of the kids who were in the program became counselors and teachers,” she said, including her own daughters. 

She said the camp started out small, but has grown over the years. During the camp, kids take classes in four arts disciplines: drama, music, visual arts, and dance, and at the end of each week, a performance is put on for family and friends. Kids are also given two snack periods, a lunch period, and time to play outside. 

There are five weeks of the camp, each with a different theme. Kids ages 6-13 can participate in as many weeks as they would like, but they don’t find out the theme for each week until Monday morning.

She said past themes have included witches and wizards, the decades, traveling the world, the four seasons, and many others. She said that not many have been repeated, and her teachers help decide what the themes are going to be. 

“We don’t do Disney or Harry Potter,” she said, instead calling the themes “really obscure.” 

“It’s a pretty grassroots kind of program,” Ehrenreich said, having rented spaces across the neighborhood before finding Spontaneous Celebrations, where the camp has been held for the past several years.

No camp was held last year due to the pandemic, but Ehrenreich said that this year, she and her staff will be following all of the CDC’s recommended protocols. She said that when the first week of camp begins at the end of June, the hope is that more people will be vaccinated, but she is still expecting lower enrollment than in previous years.

She said that there will be mask wearing and social distancing, and teachers and staff will all be fully vaccinated by the start of camp. 

 Enroillment is still open, and interested parents and guardians can visit www.kidstogetherinthearts.com for a full list of camp dates and pricing as well as to sign up.

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