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Performing & Visual Arts Summer Camp attendees to present three free shows

Sounds of squeaky shoes echo throughout the studio as the dozen or so dancers practice their upcoming Asian hip-hop routine.

The music stops abruptly. Someone missed a step.

Choreographer Ed Downing sternly but gently advises where the mistake occurred and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

After all, the show is one week away.

Someone hits the play button, and the music resumes. No one gives the error a second thought — everyone is family here at the West Las Vegas Arts Center, 947 W. Lake Mead Blvd.

The teenage performers seem to learn quickly from their mistakes. They can build their skills only by trying. Most have an extensive theater background. Others have no experience.

Down the hall, more students at the Performing & Visual Arts Summer Camp form an African rhythm circle — beating large drums with their hands and sticks.

Next door is a full production studio where kids tinker around with computer software used to create professional music for performances. R&B artist Ne-Yo used to create in that studio.

In another classroom, children ages 10 to 15 wildly clap and shout as they practice lines and learn character development for upcoming performances of Kent Jackman’s "A Friend in Need."

The urban musical focuses on two public school students, Melissa and Kelly, who ignore homework and learn life lessons during a class trip to an amusement park.

Despite the emphasis on performing arts, including dance, music and theater , the eight -week camp aims to build character in all of its 79 participants through leadership workshops, said M. Jewel Jeppë, the center’s cultural activities specialist.

"It stresses development of character, but the main goal of the program is to have thinking, active, responsible young people," Jeppë said. "The camp tries to focus on something that will empower young people with their experiences they’re having now, making it relative, and taking it with them so it’s effective in their lives."

The two-month session culminates in three community performances throughout the valley. Performances are scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 2 at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South ; 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Clark County Library Theater, 1401 E. Flamingo Road; and 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 6 at the West Las Vegas Library Theater, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd.

The program, which has been around for 15 years, involves the children’s families. A three-way contract is signed by the staff, parents and the child so everyone is aware of their responsibilities, Jeppë added.

Sixth-grader Kennedy Vincent is learning "how to feel out my character," an experience she admits is challenging.

"If my character is always mad, then I have to get on a mad face," Vincent said. "So I, like, have to bring something outside of myself, and that’s not really me. It’s different."

The 10-year-old said she used to be shy, but since she began coming to the camp a year ago, she’s not as shy.

"They help us build out of ourselves and not to be someone we’re not," Vincent said. "They push us to be our best. If we had a bad day, they would help us get over it and make the best out of it."

Avree Walker is a 20-year-old dance major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Walker serves as a camp instructor, having gone through the program himself a few years ago. He attributes his collegiate success to his participation early on at the arts center and the camp in particular.

"It has shaped every part of my being," Walker said. "I don’t think I would have been able to make it out of high school successfully, not just graduating but having had an impact and going on to college with the training I received here. It was more than just arts. It’s professionalism and being of service to the community and other individuals."

All three shows are free and open to the public. For more information, visit online artslasvegas.org/classes/wlvac.html.

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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