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Mill Ballet Summer Dance Camp balances education, exploration


If everything is beautiful at the ballet, as those kids from "A Chorus Line" claim, then how much more exquisite would it be if they threw some free-form fun into the artistic mix at a camp dedicated to the dance.

It might not be paradise, but it could be as close as it comes for dancers-campers.

Time to slip into those satiny ballet slippers in New Hope, home to the Mill Ballet Summer Dance Camp (; 609-397-7244), where they live in the jeté stream these days, the season running (and leaping) from June 26 to Aug. 20, offering separate camp sessions for ages 3 to 18.

Melissa A. and Mark A. Roxey are more than wed to each other; they're married to the success of their school, and their summer camp, which they co-founded nearly 30 years ago. With bulging bionic bios that claim credits between them in the professional dance world, education and schooling, it all guides and informs them to whatever stage they glide onto.

But their camp commitment has a prime place on their resumes, acknowledges Melissa, setting a high barre for the 75 to 100 students that normally attend each year, attracted to the "exploration activity and movement-based lessons" offered.

With all its focus on ballet, there is no dancin' in the dark when it comes to the Mill camp shedding some summer light on other movement modalities such as fiery flamenco and all that jazz.

Just because school is out for summer, "kids still want to be enriched; they're like sponges, thriving on that approach of being challenged. What they get (at camp) balances their overall education. In academics, (so much) is either a right or a wrong, but for a lot of issues we face in life, there is no one answer."

Pliés and problem solving?

"We are constantly, creatively problem solving" in the dance world. "We help students go there in their minds."

Indeed, not everyone mindful of their dense dance talent winds up stepping on a professional stage, with many alumni alighting in different careers. But choreographing a career direction is not a one-way on ramp, claims Melissa.

"As dance educators, we never stop learning from our students, teaching what works, what doesn't work. We become more and more excited with what we learn every year."

The dancer/educator remembers the years when her own camp experiences were not on softball fields but hard floors, learning to negotiate a partner's panache in a pas de deux.

"I went to camps in many parts of the country," says the native of Ringoes N.J.

Her summer stopovers included the Royal Ballet School in Canada.

"I never went to a traditional day camp. Growing up in the 1970s was quite different; if I wanted a typical camp experience, I had the backyard for that."

Back in that era, "Cinderella" was not as much the teaching tool as it turns and spins today. The favorite fairy tale serves as an educational lesson for some of this camp's fans, who work on their own dance interpretations and ultimately present them in a show for their family. Stepping out with the Stepsisters?

And the ultimate lesson is a magical one: "It all comes down to the lesson that kindness always wins," she said.

Roxey can relate; it has for her and her husband, where the kindness of strangers — students and their families placing their faith and feet in the upstart school founded some 30 years ago — has helped the Mill evolve into a major terpsichorean triumph.

The company the Roxeys run has been in New Hope since 2021, moving from its second home in Lambertville, which was flooded by the savage Hurricane Ida that same year and led to its relocation to nearby New Hope. The company, named after a mill house which served as the original home for the ballet school when it opened in 1995 in Stockton N.J., has indeed grown by leaps and bounds — and arabesques — since.

"It is awesome that we are in this county so rich in the arts,” she said. Our dance/ballet company is so very blessed to be here.”

Indeed, she admits, the area is an attraction itself for those appreciative of the arts: "We have other professional dancers from outside of the area come to us," prestigious teachers from all directions who are so impressed by the company and the region it calls home, "that we have a worldly balance (of perspectives) to offer our students."

Melissa joins the chorus of those heaping hosannahs on the dance form she grew up with. But does she follow in the footsteps of those from "A Chorus Line"? Is everything beautiful at the ballet? Or, for some, is the commitment, the work, just, well, tutu much?

"I will not say it is always beautiful," she chuckles. "But, I am 100 percent committed to making it beautiful."

Michael Elkin is a playwright, theater critic and novelist who lives in Abington. He writes occasional columns about theater.

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