LAWRENCE: A camp where children learn to play … music

As the music pumped through the speakers, nine children held onto the backs of chairs — some moving more gracefully than others, as they learned ballet moves.

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   As the music pumped through the speakers, nine children held onto the backs of chairs — some moving more gracefully than others, as they learned ballet moves.
   A counselor quietly walked over to one of the three boys in the class and showed him how to straighten his leg and move his feet.
   He looked a little perplexed, but he quickly caught on.
   In another classroom, about a dozen children learned some hip hop dance moves. In a small classroom nearby, a young girl attempted to sing along with a recording while a counselor sat behind the baby grand piano.
   It was all in a day’s play — or lessons — for the nearly three dozen children enrolled in The Lawrenceville School’s two-week-long Performing Arts Camp that wraps up this week. The camp is held on the private school’s grounds.
   The camp, which has been held at the school for eight years, was the brainchild of graduates Nick Johnson and Celine Satija, said camp manager Colette Burns. They wanted to offer a camp that focused on instrumental music, she said.
   The camp began with about 20 children, and it has expanded over the years to enroll up to 35 campers, Ms. Burns said. The children learn to play instruments, to sing, to act and to dance from the camp counselors — all students at the school.
   Some of the children have not been exposed to the arts, she said, adding that the hope is that they will continue and learn more. The campers range in age from 7 to 12, and must meet income-eligibility requirements to enroll. All attend the Lawrence Township public school system.
   The children create a play and learn to memorize their lines, Ms. Burns said. Those who participate in the dance sessions will learn how to choreograph dance steps. They also learn about ballet, hip hop and jazz dancing.
   Children who want to sing learn about techniques, while campers who take part in the instrumental music sessions learn how to read music and how to make musical sounds on the instruments, she said. Sometimes, it’s an effort to make a sound come out of the instrument, she added.
   ”(The Lawrenceville School) students love doing the camp and teaching the younger children. It’s fun. They are counselors for two or three years. It is very rewarding. (For the campers), maybe one day, one of the children will come to school here,” she said.
   Naina Sahrawat, who will be a senior at The Lawrenceville School, served as a counselor last year. She enjoyed it so much she signed up for a second year. She said she polished her “people skills,” learning how to work with so many young children.
   Naina also likes to watch the children grow.
   ”One little girl would not open her mouth, she was so shy. But at the end of the week, she wanted to be at the front of the dance line. It’s nice to see children open up like that,” she said, adding that parents are surprised to see what their children have learned at the end-of-camp show presented by the youngsters.
   Emily Ordonez, who will be a 5th-grader at the Lawrence Intermediate School, is completing her second year of Performing Arts Camp. She was a little nervous last year, wondering if camp would be fun and how many new friends she might make.
   ”I was very excited to come back to camp,” Emily said. “I didn’t think I could learn to dance, but they taught me and I love it now. I learned to memorize a song. I sang a little at school, and now I’m getting better.”
   Emily also learned how to play the guitar at the Performing Arts Camp. She already knew how to play the marimba, which is a Spanish instrument that is similar to the xylophone. Learning to play an instrument is her “favorite” activity, she said.
   ”I was kind of not sure if I could learn to play the guitar. I feel like I accomplished something,” Emily said.
   And in the end, that’s what is important — that children gain some exposure to the arts, Ms. Burns said.
   ”The key is that the arts are important in life. If the campers take anything out of it, it is that the arts are a joyous part of their being. Listening to music makes you feel better,” Ms. Burns said.