Five, six, seven, eight different children walked through the door of the theatre.
The first Casper Children’s Theater workshop of the summer attracted a wide range of dancers, all ages seven to 14. Their shoes are just as wide: sneakers, ballerinas, black heels and of course, patterned socks. None of them seem quite sure what to expect, other than the fact that a full week of dancing awaits them.
The first request was pretty simple though.
“Show me your jazz hands,” Amandie Campbell of Rising Star Tumbling and Dance Studio, better known as Miss AJ, told the children.
The workshop is based on the dance style of the late choreographer Bob Fosse. Audrey Egan, program coordinator at Casper Children’s Theater, said it was highly requested by children after watching Natrona County High School’s Chicago production. A production that Campbell choreographed earlier in the year.
“I was like, let’s do this. I’ve loved Fosse since 2004, when I was in Chicago at Casper College,” Campbell said. in that you don’t have to find that placement really strong and strict, it’s more about getting the movement to work in your body.
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Back on stage for warm-ups, the band practiced everything from their jazz squares to holding an imaginary felt pen while crossing the floor. A few moves seemed just awkward enough for the kids to laugh at the embarrassment among themselves. It was something Campbell told them to use in their dance.
“That’s why we are dancers and theater people,” she said. “Let that weirdness embrace everything you do.”
That kind of positive outlook is what drew the company to Campbell in the first place, Egan said. But while this was Campbell’s first time hosting a workshop, it marks the fourth year of Egan’s time with the company. And she has seen the theater go through many changes.
The Casper Children’s Theater moved in 2020 and when the pandemic hit, its curtains were temporarily closed. Two years later, the company remains selective about the programs it hosts, but 2021-2022 was its first full season back on stage. The theater plans to host four more workshops over the summer.
Egan said it was awesome. Not only for the company, but also for the children.
“So many of these kids think this place is their home… There are some of these kids who literally do every show, they do every camp,” she said. “For some kids, that’s their thing. And really, it’s the only place in Casper where you can have that full-time, year-round opportunity for kids to be kids on stage.
After the warm-ups, the children moved on to the actual choreography that had been planned. Fittingly, their jazz hands were used a lot during the Chicago musical’s “Paint the Town Red” number. Each dancer moved differently, but as they were taught, that was the whole point of Bob Fosse’s style.
“Theatre is a unique outlet for human beings to experience human stories.” says Egan. “By telling a story like you do in theatre, you become someone else. You can watch someone else and you can live their life for an hour or two.
After two hours, the children gathered in a circle to share what they had learned that day. A few mentioned specific moves, others mentioned the dance style itself. Each of them had something different to add. However, Campbell had one main focus for what she wanted them to leave the workshop with.
“I want them to regain confidence in themselves and in their ability to be a performer,” Campbell said. “I think that’s one thing I like to teach in dance, it’s how to be a confident, positive person through movement. I think anyone can learn anything through movement, and some people have to have movement to learn something. If they’ve gained a level of confidence that they didn’t have before coming here, then my job is done.
From day one, the children were already showing more confidence as dancers, she said. And sure enough, you could hear a few of them humming the tune as they left.
Ready to come back tomorrow for three more days of dancing, singing and all that jazz.