Eleven-year-old Hector Jain hasn’t been whiling away his summer.
Every day, for five weeks, he and 175 other kids from across the world have been participating in the Next Generation Ballet Summer Intensive camp at the Straz Center for Performing Arts in downtown Tampa.
On a recent day, Hector and two others boys moved in unison, trying to keep up with Philip Neal, Next Generation Ballet’s artistic director and former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet. Neal moved rapidly, switching his movements while clapping and loudly directing his students.
The boys worked on their pliés and balance and learned to use their arms in a "chicken wing" formation to elevate their kicks.
"My favorite part about dancing is being able to express yourself to the audience," Hector said.
Neal said success will require "an incredible sense of discipline." It helps, he said, that these students are starting early.
Angelica Reyes, 13, credits dancing with making her a better student.
"You are so dedicated and committed to this that you have to learn how to be dedicated and committed to other things," she said.
Angelica was in a classroom with more than a dozen girls being taught by former Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Gabriella Yudenich.
Yudenich walked back and forth slowly, watching each girl’s movements while snapping her fingers to keep them on beat. Angelica looked forward, toward the mirror, concentrating on making her movements graceful and strong as Yudenich walked by.
Angelica aspires to be a principal dancer for a ballet company, just like her dad, Reyneris Reyes, who is a principal dancer for the Miami City Ballet and a guest artist at the camp.
But she knows it’s important to branch out beyond ballet.
The camp trains students in contemporary, jazz and musical theater, combining modern dance, ballet and hip-hop. They learn to sing, too.
"The most exciting part about this camp is that I get to be with my friends," she said. "We are all here doing the same thing, trying to be good dancers."