Camp // Learning at the lake

Dance, nature, art, and learning — all rolled into one camp

If you are walking around Lake Harriet on a Thursday during the summer, you may see a group of small children dressed in brightly colored skirts, scarves, and hats. If you do, you will probably also be privy to whispering to the likes of, “Should we ask her? What do you think? Let’s invite her! You ask her!”

They shyly walk up to you with their fairy wings and Star Wars outfits and hand you a small piece of paper; an invitation that announces an original production at noon at the Band Shell.

“Hi … um, excuse me, but do you want to come to our show please?”

You agree and follow them to the Lake Harriet Band Shell where there are other children, playing, dancing, and getting their costumes fixed. The audience grows larger and larger as other children, passers-by, and family members sit down next to you on the wooden benches facing the stage, holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.

Once the show starts, you are treated to a magical story with lovely characters that the children all made up themselves (this one entitled, “How They Got Their Magic Back” starring elves, unicorns, wizards, burglars, and Luke Skywalker), as well as a few dance performances. As the show comes to a close, the children all bow together to clapping and cheering from the audience. The camp counselors smile proudly as they thank the audience for coming, inviting them to stay for lemonade and a wedge of watermelon.

“They brighten my day,” camp counselor Alex Sertic says of the campers, ending his statement with a huge smile on his face.

Welcome to Lucy’s Outdoor Dance Camp.

Involved instructors

After refreshments, first time camper, Zoraya, runs off to the lake to get in some quality swimming time with her mom, camp yoga instructor Cori Levin, and grandparents, who came to watch the final performance.

“Zoraya loves coming here. She loves to dance and she loves creative dance,” says her grandmother, Francie Ross. “She loves how Lucy teaches, it is so organic. The kids love her and it is just delightful how the kids respond.”

Levin adds that the camp has a neighborhood/community feel because of how the campers, counselors, and parents interact.

“I really like connecting with different parents and developing relationships,” owner and manager Lucy Rahn said later. “The parents will drop their kids off and then they will come to the beach to pick them up, they’ll often come maybe a little early and stay later so the kids can swim. A fun part is just sitting there on a blanket or on the wall by the beach just chatting with the parents and really casually getting to know everyone, seeing friendships being created, and creating networks between parents. It feels like a community.”

Dance, environment, nature

Combining her love of dance with the environment and nature, Rahn is expanding her camp from four days (as it was in 2011 and prior) to five days, with an option for full or half days. The week is filled with a variety of activities and the development of a play and several dances, all of which are showcased in a final performance.

“I wanted kids to really not just think ‘oh I go to the lake to go swimming…oh I go to the playground to play,’ but to think about the full surroundings and be able to look at the environment and appreciate it,” Rahn says. “I wanted to create a fun experience, so then as they get older they have positive connotations with things they experienced here.”

And what fun things the campers get to experience! Yoga, nature education (which includes walks, coloring, and drawing items the campers find in nature, reading books about the environment and discussing where the objects in the book are found, as well as what they are called in different languages), practicing the dance the campers perform at the end of the week, swimming, and touring the Peace Gardens, the bird sanctuary, and the Rose Gardens are only a few activities counselor Sertic and his colleague Stephanie Sias mention.

“There is a lot more freedom to do lots of different activities and switch it up,” says Sias, who has worked at other camps where activities and sports were monotonously repeated. “It makes it a lot more fun for the kids — and the counselors — I think.” A good example of this is when Rahn brings in guest instructors to talk about renewable energy or when guest artists come to teach the campers about physical theater/clown theater or hip hop — one guest artist even included PAzAZz who was a back-up dancer for Prince!

Rahn grew up in Minneapolis, loving everything about Lake Harriet — its location, history, and beauty — so when, at the urging of friends, she decided to start her camp, Lake Harriet was the natural choice.

“It’s just a beautiful lake, there is just something about it. It is tucked away from any really busy roads and it has this beautiful band shell,” Rahn says.

Rahn says she received a book from her mother titled “Lake Harriet: Until 1925” by Tine Thevenin detailing the background of Lake Harriet and the Native Americans who lived there previously to white settlers. According to the book, Chief Cloud Man, who lived there with his tribe, was forced to leave the land due to bloody battles with another tribe.

She and her campers like to end the week by dedicating a dance to Chief Cloud Man, thanking him for the use 
of his land.

Other ways Rahn incorporates nature and land into her dance instruction include exploring the environment during dance, obstacle courses and creating dance performances around something in the environment, for example, a dance about the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and showing the different stages through movement.

“I love being outdoors. I love the possibility and the joy and the freedom that I feel being with the kids and the activities that we do,” Rahn says. “I like that within the structure we create, kids can bloom and blossom, and as counselors, it is very freeing to experience that.