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Arts & Life

Want To Join The Circus? Put On A Play? There's A Camp For That

Courtesy of Imagination Circus Arts
Students at Boulder's Imagination Circus Arts camp practice aerial work.

Arts and crafts used to be part of summer camp. Now? They are summer camp.

The Denver Art Museum has camps for future filmmakers, fashion designers and architects. Kids can focus on everything from the culinary arts to comic book illustration as part of the Colorado Academy’s summer programs. At Boulder’s Imagination Circus Arts camp, the kids have high-flying aspirations.

Campers can learn everything from juggling to the trapeze to acro-stunting, said ICA founder Marcy Gallardo.

"The majority of the kids attending the camp are trying this out for the first time," Gallardo said. "That’s what makes it such a great experience – anyone can try it."

In fact, it was at camp that she discovered her own passion for circus performing.

"I didn’t attend summer camp, but I did teach at one in college," said Gallardo, who initially trained in dance and gymnastics before working at a camp that offered intensives on everything from learning Chinese to horseback riding. "I couldn’t believe how fabulous it was."

She ended up mirroring ICA’s camp after that experience. The goal is for campers to train intensely in one skill and, at the end of the session, be able to perform that skill for an audience.

Often campers go on to continue their training with ICA’s classes during the rest of the year, Gallardo said. Some even end up interning with and potentially joining the Circus Factory, ICA’s professional performance troupe. "And when that happens, that’s really exciting," she said.

Camp can also be a way to keep kids' brains from going soft during the summer.

At Project Youth and Chamber Music (or PYCh) in Fort Collins, camps are structured not only to make learning music fun, but also educational. The programs use a variety of renowned techniques, including Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which uses movement and dance to teach a deeper understanding of music.

"Parents are very interested in giving their kids that step up," said PYCh Director Jephta Bernstein. "Not just having them be idle in the summer, but doing things that engage them in ways that spark their interests, and keep their brains moving forward."

Music is proven to do just that, Bernstein added. And studying and promoting music’s positive impact on the brain is a major focus for PYCh. The program’s summer camps are actually a kick off to its Off the Hook Festival and the With Music in Mind Conference, featuring lecturers from leading educators, musicians and neuroscientists.

Credit Courtesy of CSU
Campers write, costume and perform an original play as part of Colorado State University's Kids Do It All camp.

But sometimes camp is just about giving kids an artistic outlet in a way they never even imagined. It might even be one they didn't know they wanted.

About half the kids who show up on day one to the Kids Do It All theater camp have no desire to be on stage; their parents signed them up, said founder Walt Jones, who also is director of Colorado State University’s theater and dance department.

"But there are no kids who don’t want to be there at the end," Jones said.

Children ages 7 to 13 can take part in the camp, which allows kids to literally take part in every aspect of putting on a theatrical show – from writing to set design to performing on stage. And that’s the part that captures the attention of the kids who "don’t do theater."

"The kids really do run the show," Jones said. "And the biggest hams are often the ones who didn’t want to be there at first. I think maybe that ownership gives them more incentive to really be part of it."

While many of the 10-minute plays the kids come up with have themes such as pirates, a few years ago Jones said one camper came up with a play about his sister as a tree that eventually blooms with flowers. It wasn’t until after the kids performed the play for an audience of friends and parents that Jones learned the student taken a page from his own life.

"He was processing the death of his sister," Jones said.

Music and theater are very fun and safe worlds to explore self-expression, said Lindsay Taylor, associate marketing director with Swallow Hill.

At the Denver music non-profit’s Belt It Out camp, students get to unleash their inner rock star by learning stage presence, choreography and vocal projection. But it’s also a way to learn about themselves.


"Music can hold so many different emotions," Taylor said. "It’s a really wonderful place for them to practice different emotions that they might face in the real world and find a good outlet for them."

Remembering her own childhood experience attending classical music camp, Taylor said it can also give kids some much needed common ground.

"Sometimes, as a kid, you can feel alone," she said. "That was what was so great about my camp experience. All of the sudden, I was surrounded by hundreds of other kids who were into exactly the same things that I was. It was really exciting and heartwarming because suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore."

Editor's Note: Full disclosure, KUNC is a sponsor of events and programs at Swallow Hill Music. Additionally, Swallow Hill Music is an underwriter of KUNC programming.

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