From fish flop to flamenco, dance camp appeals to teens

June 05, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Tyler McDonald

Students in GCU's first residential dance camp show some of their talents.

Students in GCU’s first residential dance camp show some of their talents.

If the dictionary had an entry for “Generation Z,” you might see a photo of the nine teenagers enrolled in Grand Canyon University’s first residential dance camp, which is this week and next on campus. They are independent thinkers, curious and driven, experts say, and they have knack for investigating how to obtain relevant professional experience before they get to college.

So of course they came to GCU.

Savannah Anderson will be a GCU freshman this fall, which means that becoming familiar with the Dance Department’s studio in Saguaro Hall, taking a dip in the swimming pool right next door and munching pizza at Slices in GCU Arena was valuable. One of three Californians at GCU’s “Summer Dance Intensive,” the Rancho Cucamonga girl loves the Arizona summer heat and her soon-to-be home.

Dance director Susannah Keita

Dance director Susannah Keita

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do in college until this year,” said Anderson who at 17 is among the oldest enrollees in the camp, which runs weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. “GCU had a lot of things I liked — kinesiology, pre-physical therapy — but I’ve been passionate about dance since I was a little girl.”

Summer Dance Intensive” is being taught by dance director Susannah Keita, eight other faculty members in GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production and three guest artists. Additionally, GCU senior dance education majors Nicole Mayes and Michelle Bissonnette and GCU dance alumnus Christopher Biles are working as camp counselors.

Keita said the camp gives teenagers a college experience, introduces young dancers to the methods taught at GCU, from jazz, ballet and contemporary to world dance, and mixes in exercises that teach healthy dance habits, too.

“They are making creative choices and exploring genres that may be unfamiliar,” she said. “I’m struck by how hard they are working. They say ‘yes’ to everything and are clearly used to the rigors of dance.”

The students, from California and Arizona, are learning about ballet, jazz, contemporary, improvisation and more.

The students, from California and Arizona, are learning about ballet, jazz, contemporary, improvisation and more.

The students also are experiencing the “World Dance Sampler,” classes in West African, flamenco and the Katherine Dunham Technique, characterized by live percussion music. These normally aren’t included in camps like this, Keita said.

“The students have been surprised by how structured and precise the flamenco class is, and that has helped break down common misconceptions that the technique is easy,” she said.

Improvisation has been a big hit so far — “Ohhh, it was great,” the campers chorused Wednesday after Josh South, a 19-year-old from Goodyear, said it was his favorite.

“You’re given an idea, but not a choreography that you have to follow,” said South, who hopes to study at GCU.

"Summer Dance Intensive" will continue next week and spots are open for dancers ages 14 to 24.

“Summer Dance Intensive” will continue next week. Spots are open for dancers ages 14 to 24.

Around camp, there have been good-natured disputes about whether a fish flop is called a fish flop or a shoulder roll, and general agreement that faculty member Sean Dahlberg’s jazz class was “the bomb” (or however Generation Z’ers would say it).

Breanna Fields, a student at Odyssey Institute for Advanced and International Studies in Buckeye, has been dancing most of her life. She didn’t know any other campers when she arrived Monday, but after evening games of Apples to Apples and yoga classes together, that’s all changed.

“I’m going to leave here with eight new best friends,” the 15-year-old said. “With dance, I think it’s a trust thing.”

Improvisation helps here, too, Keita said.

“It helps build inner trust to perform improvisation,” she said. “Any choice is the right choice as long as you do it with commitment.”

The dancers didn’t agree on one favorite genre of dance, nor would you expect them to. One of the youngest students, 14-year-old Erika Filep, said she’s drawn to contemporary and jazz funk.

“I really like being able to express myself in both,” she said.

Spots for students ages 14 to 24 are still available in next week’s “Summer Dance Intensive.” An informal performance for family and friends is slated for 4 p.m. Friday, June 12, in Ethington Theatre. Admission is free. Additionally, a World Dance Sampler, featuring classes for dancers of all experience levels, will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday in the Saguaro Hall dance studio. The classes are free to anyone with a GCU ID, $15 each for others. Register here or just drop by.

Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or

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