POTSDAM — During practice, it was hard to tell which dancer was supposed to be where, or doing what. By the time the performance came around the next day, the girls were prancing across the stage with only a few minor missteps.
Thirty girls, ranging in age from 5 to 16, came to SUNY Potsdam this week to participate in a ballet camp with the New York City-based Rebecca Kelly Ballet. They spent the time learning two choreographed pieces as quickly as possible to perform in Dunn Theater.
"It's a little scary, but the experience we give them is the effort; the focus is the experience," said Rebecca Kelly, artistic director of the dance company and one of the camp's teachers. "It's a dance soup. It's not classical; it's definitely just related to the vigor of the music."
Dressed in brightly hued T-shirts, the girls danced to a harvest song hailing from Punjab, in northern India, on the border of Pakistan. Then they broke up into groups, based loosely on their ages, and performed to other music, ranging from Chopin to Patsy Cline.
"It's a way into something outside their everyday experience. It's just a way to broaden their experience," said Ms. Kelly, who grew up in the Sudan.
Most of the dances combined elements of classical ballet with modern dance: light and airy motions with heavier ones, weighted to the ground.
Keeping 30 excited girls organized was no mean feat for the four instructors, all of whom were from the dance company, and at very few times during rehearsal was there no chatter in the background.
"It's almost like conducting a military maneuver, but we use the beauty of dance," Ms. Kelly said during a rehearsal Thursday before interrupting herself:
"Eyes up — I want to see the color of your eyes," she called to the girls on stage.
Not every girl was a dance student; girls of all experience levels and abilities came to the program. Nor were they confined by geography; one girl came from as far away as Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County. Another came from Maine. Both had planned vacations to visit family in the north country the same week as the dance program, put on by Community Performance Series, a community theater group based in Potsdam.
"We do this in the morning and spend the rest of the day in the lake," said Mary Beth Anderson, Lowville, who was there with her 6-year-old daughter, Margaret V. Anderson. "She is going to Broadway, no doubt. She's very dramatic. For us to get this kind of instruction down in the city would cost us thousands of dollars."
There were several different programs rolled into one during the week; a full-day internship for girls older than 12, a half-day program for girls 5 to 14 and a 45-minute option for those 2 to 6.
But they all performed on the stage, in front of an audience of about 100 people.
"You can't tell how old they are from their ability," Ms. Kelly said. "Dance is not about age; dance is about passion."