AUBURN | For a handful of lucky young people in Auburn, the opportunity to experience things outside of their everyday lifestyle lies right in their own backyards.
This year marks the 22nd annual New York Dance Festival held in the city of Auburn, bringing together dancers of all ages and skill levels for one celebratory performance. The festival, co-sponsored this year by the Auburn Enlarged City School District, is a product of the New York Institute of Dance Education, formed by Auburn native Sean McLeod.
About 70 dancers have participated in this year's two-week dance camp at the former West Middle School in Auburn in preparation for a recital that will wrap up everything the group has learned and practiced together. Because this festival partnered with the school district this year, McLeod's institute provided Auburn children nearly $22,000 in scholarships, allowing some of the dancers, one just 7 years old, to participate in the program for free.
"It's a unique opportunity to participate in a world-class program but not trap yourself in the stereotypical elitism associated with the fine arts," said McLeod, who grew up in Auburn before moving to New York City to pursue a dance and theater career. "A lot of people in Auburn have never had the chance to experience world-class dance, and this is something so worldly and amazing happening right here in their city."
During the two weeks that the dancers spent at the camp, they learned from McLeod and his team of professional performers several aspects of modern dance and will show off their work at a recital Friday night.
McLeod said that one of the most important things about holding the festival in Auburn each year is being able to give something back to the community that he feels gave him so much. He credits his experience with the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse helping him get his start in dance and said that he wants to help other people who may be struggling to find themselves.
"My playground was the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and my life would have been very different without it," he said. "My entire disposition changed because of my interaction with the arts and this was my chance to step out into the world."
McLeod said that he consistently learns as much from the people who participate in his dance festivals as they learn from him and feels that there is always an opportunity to do more to help someone. With 22 years of it under his belt, McLeod doesn't see an end to the festival in sight and said he will continue to bring it back to Auburn for years to come in order to reach as many people as possible with his inspirational message.
"I don't want to ever have to admit to myself that I missed somebody," he said.