In a large room in Hyde Park, children ages 6 to 12 are attentively following the directions given to them by Mr. Jon. As several proud parents look on, the kids run, one by one, and leap across the floor, arms raised and smiles flashing to the audience. Moving to the beat of a live drum, they are performers, athletes and students of dance, but first and foremost, they are kids enjoying what they are doing. Not even the hot summer sun can keep them from the task at hand: dancing.
These kids are the participants in the Children's Dance Institute's Summer Performance Camp. Founded and led by Mr. Jon, a.k.a. Jon Swarthout, the CDI follows one guiding principle: to teach the kids to love dance. "I want them to see that dance is a powerful, transformative art form; it's not just ballet, and it's not just for girls," explains Swarthout. When he retired from professional dancing, he wanted to start a program that focused on developing an appreciation of the art form instead of teaching technical dance. "This is not about making professional dancers. More than anything, you have to make it fun," Swarthout says.
The Children's' Dance Institute also goes into local schools to teach weekly dance sessions. Each week focuses on a different dance from a different culture. "A huge door opened when I realized that there are so many dances out there that people don't know about," says Swarthout. As they teach new dances, the classes become lessons in history and culture. "Each class has some character value associated with it: the South African gumboot dance deals with racial diversity; the American Indian rain dance touches on belief; the Charleston deals with freedom; breakdancing speaks to creativity."
Another part of the organization is the Children's Dance Foundation, a non-profit that raises money to provide scholarships for the CDI. "No kid will be turned away because of an inability to pay," says Swarthout. This year, CDI will be holding a Benefit Performance on August 5 and 6 to raise money for their scholarships. The directors of the CDI have invited 15 kids from their programs to make up the LEAP Troupe, which will be performing a dance developed by Jon and guest teacher Corrine Nagata. The dance is based on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. It will be set to original music by CDI musical director Jon-Jon Stravers and feature a live vocal performance by Vashti Summervill. In addition, world-renowned professional choreographer Trey McIntyre will bring his Trey McIntyre Project to the Treasure Valley. The project brings together 10 dancers hand-picked by McIntyre from various companies throughout the country to perform works from his impressive repertoire.
The CDI Summer Dance Festival Benefit Performance is a great opportunity to see performances of a high caliber for the benefit a worthy cause. It may also remind you to love the art of dance.
August 5 and 6, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy Auditoriun.