Camp Moms on Camp Ballibay

February 21, 2024By Annie Yamamoto

"I get to cheer them on, they get to cheer me on, but we don’t always have to do everything together."

Mihoko Yamamoto, Voice Teacher

I owe my Ballibay experience to the person who, every year, made camp possible for me: my mom.

For eight summers, she worked at camp so that I could attend.

Without her, I never would’ve been a camper at Ballibay.

I've only recently realized that camp was not just a place for me to sing, dance, and be with friends, but it was also a place for my mom and I to be together in a setting only unique to Ballibay.

Now as a staff member, without my mom around, it’s made me more observant of the camper and camp parent dynamics around me and if they are similar to my own. It’s also made me so much more appreciative of them.

 

"They get to see me living my best life 

and I get to see them living their best lives!"

 

I have the pleasure of working alongside several camp moms and recently had the chance to talk with Sara Galkin and Deidre Struck- both who currently have kids of their own attending camp.

When talking to them about how their camp experience has been alongside their kids, they both answer earnestly.

“I was nervous about how I would be sucked into their daily lives and that it would prohibit them from being campers and me from being an artist” Deidre replies. “But in fact, I found the opposite to be true. Being at camp with them really helped me creatively because I saw them trying new things, in such a child-like way, which inspired me to do new things as well.”

Sara answers similarly. “I was definitely worried initially. I think they were a bit annoyed in the beginning but they all ended up including me and it was exciting for them that I was there. It’s been awesome because they get to see me living my best life, and I get to see them living their best life. I get to be a fly on the wall and see them putting themselves forward.”

Sara Galkin, Head of Art

I realized very early on that at camp, we had the space to be our own people. I could go out and explore on my own and my mom could do the same. But we also had the support of the Ballibay community to collaborate and cheer each other on.

One of my core memories with my mom at camp was singing “For Good” from Wicked with her in 2009. It was my first ever performance at camp and I was a nervous wreck. Now looking back on it, it makes me smile to think that I shared my first of many Ballibay performances with my mom.

When talking to Sara and Deidre about growing and creating simultaneously alongside their campers, they felt similarly.

“The first year I went to camp with the kids, I didn’t see them at all for the first few days. I really missed them. But then there’s this amazing feeling of knowing that we are in the same environment but doing our own thing. I get to cheer them on, they get to cheer me on, but we don’t always have to do everything together,” Deidre reflects. “It’s honestly incredible to make art alongside them and with them. Playing for them in camper cabarets is something that I always think about because I don't know how long they want me accompanying them! It's something that I'll always cherish."

“They get to have their own space there,” Sara states. “I don’t think they ever really felt like I was intruding on their experience. I let them set the pace and watching them at camp has been great. It doesn’t seem like they’re holding back at all.”

Deidre Struck, Music Director

As my camper summers at Ballibay continued, I saw less and less of my mom. As you can probably imagine, pre-teen Annie wanted to be on her own and enjoy the same freedom her cabinmates had with no parental eyes on her. Now, it’s made me think of how I never had to be directly associated with her all the time and vice versa. Some space was a good thing- a beneficial thing!

When talking to the camp moms about how camp has impacted their lives, separate from their kids, they respond contently.

“It’s been a place where I feel safe and understood- and this security helps me when I return home. It’s a memory of how I can appreciate all the little things. It’s a constant reminder of that level of being present and this trickles down into so many different things. Realizing the space where I come alive has really contributed to understanding what doesn't serve me and making sure that I surround myself with people that lift me up and vice versa. I really get to do my own personal growing,” Sara replies.

“Ballibay encourages people to try new things and do cross disciplinary art, and this has really carried over into my artistic life at home. Sometimes it can be very lonely being a composer. So, I ask myself ‘why do I love Ballibay so much?’ and ‘how can I bring it more into my daily life in New York?’ I came up with the acronym PEACH. P for purpose, E for the beautiful Ballibay environment, A for staying active- my calves get so strong!,” Deidre laughs. “C is for community- at Ballibay, I thrive in community, and H is for health. So that’s PEACH! I actually have some peach stickers to help remind me of how I feel at camp,” Deidre replies.

I don’t think I realized how lucky I was to have my mom at camp with me. The shared memories and experiences we have of camp created a connection unlike any other. I can relate to so much of how Ballibay brings people together- especially family. Camp offers such a special bond that you can’t get anywhere else.

“We start talking about Ballibay pretty much as soon as we get home from Ballibay,” Deidre laughs. “It has become a huge part of our lives.”

“It's certainly added another level of connection for all of us,” Sara reflects.

“It sets such a warm tone. I think it helps the kids understand me and it helps them see me in a different light- out of the regular day to day.”

At times throughout camp when I was feeling down or a bit stressed, I found myself seeking comfort, support, and advice from our camp moms. I think that it’s partly due to missing my own mom, but also because camp moms are able to offer a different perspective and energy that our younger staff don’t have just yet.

“Being a camp mom is the best. I think having moms at camp is really important because a lot of campers miss their moms and may not be able to articulate it. If I’m ever in a rehearsal and I notice that a kid may need a hug or a little extra something that day, I’ve invited kids to sit next to me at the piano. And I think that they enjoy having a mom-like presence around. I try to create space for mom-like community and love. It’s great because there are several of us and campers know that they can go to any one of us for something that’s more of a mom thing- I don’t even know what a mom thing is!,” Deidre chuckles. “It’s just a vibe!”

“The benefit of being a camp mom is really understanding that the kids come first- period. I think there are times we can intervene a little bit with the younger counselors and help them understand the kids in a different way. I think it’s different coming from us,” Sara states.

More Balli-Moms!
From left to right: Janine Sopp, Jana Flynn, Sara Galkin, Deidre Struck, Yuna Weiss

Finally, I took the time to talk to my own mom about her camp experience. We haven’t talked much about camp in a while, so I was interested to hear her thoughts after talking with the current camp moms.

"I really appreciated that I had the privilege to see my child thrive as a young performer and artist. I liked seeing you being so cute and happy!" she laughs. Even if I wasn't always around you, I knew you were in good hands."

"Ballibay gave us such a nostalgic place to always return to- it was our home away from home. I am always nostalgic for camp and it gives me such a warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart."

"I met the most professional minded people, like Jay, Jesse, and Mel, to enrich my artistic growth and experience. I loved by being surrounded by all the nature at camp because it motivated me to produce more music- it was so much better than being stuck in my home studio."

Mihoko and the 2010 Balli-goats!

In wrapping up my conversation with Sara, Deidre, and my mom, Mihoko, I asked them to share any final words of camp mom wisdom.

“Let your campers be campers. The best thing that I’ve done for my own children, because they’ve grown so much since they’ve started at camp, is to just let them be campers. And remember, no news is good news!” Deidre replies.

“Have your own separate connection with the camp. And have a bond with the other camp moms. Like the same way the kids form a bond with their friends, we (camp moms) have a bond with each other and it’s a very open, honest, and trusting bond,” Sara reflects.

"Let your child free even though you're there! You are two different individuals trying to experience something different so respect each other's space! Have fun in your own world," Mihoko shares.

It has been so enlightening speaking with these camp moms about their camp experience. Our camp moms are a beloved part of the Ballibay community. Through their eyes, we see the impact of a community built on kindness, compassion, and love. These camp moms, with their unwavering dedication, don't just contribute to the camp's environment, but are also so important in shaping the lives and memories of our campers.

4 Reasons Why Sleepaway Camps Are Important for Young Artists in the Post-Pandemic World

December 8, 2023By Annie Yamamoto

4 Reasons Why Sleepaway Camps Are Important for Young Artists in the Post-Pandemic World

As the world emerges from the shadows of the pandemic, most have begun to regain their sense of normalcy, but for many young artists, the path back to their creative pursuits has been a challenging one. After years of empty studios, dark theaters, and quiet garages, kids are ready to be themselves once again. And sleepaway camps offer a unique sanctuary for these artists.  

Working Together Once Again: Collaboration can be incredibly important for young artists. It pushes kids to listen, communicate, and blend their talents to create beautiful art. To the fault of nothing but the pandemic, there has been a lack of opportunity for kids to navigate teamwork and what it means to create art collaboratively outside of the school system. Sleepaway camps provide campers of all different backgrounds a space to learn from different perspectives and skills and be inspired by ideas they may not have encountered on their own. 

Reigniting Artistic Independence: While some artists collaborate with others, some choose to create on their own. However, the isolating nature of the pandemic may have hindered the independence of many artists. The enforced isolation during the pandemic lockdown worsened feelings of loneliness. The lack of social interactions and art events meant that young artists missed out on so many opportunities to nurture their artistic growth. Sleepaway camps empower young artists to explore (or re-explore) their creative ideas and instincts independently, all while having the space and support of a community. When campers are away from their familiar confines of home and free from the pressures of school deadlines, they are challenged to develop their artistic identities on their own and gain the confidence to express themselves authentically.  

Time Away from Screens: Living in this post-pandemic world has shown that kids are wedged between the intersection of the ever-expanding digital realm and reality. For the last few years, phones were the only source for connections and entertainment. Many kids have grown up with the pervasiveness of smartphones and tablets being the norm. In findings revealed by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table in 2022, it has been observed that non-online school based screen time for children experienced a noteworthy rise in with the onset of the pandemic, from 2.6 to 5.9 hours a day. Sleepaway camps offer a unique opportunity for kids to unplug from their devices and reconnect face-to-face. It's amazing what kids can do when they are given the time to just be kids again.

Lifelong Friendships: The connections formed at sleepaway camps are truly special. There is something about the shared experiences of summer camp that create lifelong bonds. Kids raised through the height of the pandemic missed out on so many chances to form these friendships and expand their social horizons. Sleepaway camps, once again, offer kids the chance to make friends organically and truly share a special connection. 

In the wake of the pandemic, where so many values have become lost, the need for children to be kids again is more important than ever. Sleepaway camps offer the perfect space for kids to rediscover who they are and once again enjoy the journey of making art.  

OUR ONLINE STORE IS OPEN!

November 13, 2023By Annie Yamamoto

We are delighted to share the exciting news that our online store is officially open! We want to express our sincere gratitude for the overwhelming support we have received as we prepared for this launch! 

At the heart of our vintage logos lies the artistry of Dottie Jannone, the original co-owner of Camp Ballibay and artist behind the designs. As we open our store, we take a moment to celebrate Dottie and her beautiful contributions to the aesthetic legacy of Ballibay. 

Our initial launch features two vintage Ballibay logos from the 70s and 80s. 

While our initial launch highlights these vintage logos, we are excited to share that we have plans to expand our merchandise in the future! Keep an eye out on all of our social media platforms (Instagram Discord and Facebook for upcoming releases, promotions, and exclusive merch.

We're in the process of establishing a community of campers, staff, and alumni on Discord, and we invite you to join us! As our Discord community expands, it will serve as the primary platform for sharing the latest Ballibay news, along with exclusive content available only on Discord. You can use this invite link to join, but please note that it expires on November 17, 2023. If you happen to come across this blog post after that date, feel free to reach out to me for a fresh invite link! 

Once again, thank you all for your unwavering support! As we commemorate Dottie's artistry throughout our 60th season, we invite you to visit our store!

WHAT HAPPENS AT BALLIBAY DURING THE OFF-SEASON?

April 11, 2022By sarah galante

What happens at Ballibay during the off-season? Well, for one thing, we make movies!

We’re delighted to announce that the new feature film Person Woman Man Camera TV is available to watch now through April 17 at the CINEQUEST Film and Creativity Festival online.

Strange, funny, and a little sad, it’s a quick romp at just 77 minutes - we hope you can watch it. Although produced by a summer camp,  it is personal artistic work and is not necessarily a film for kids - it has adult themes and strong language. Please watch the trailer before deciding to view as a family.

This is the second feature executive produced by the camp, shot and directed by Ballibay’s head of media: award-winning filmmaker Niav Conty. Ballibay director John Jannone produced the film and composed the score.

Person Woman Man Camera TV is a tragicomedy about romance, race, and remembering shot at camp in quarantine in the Fall of 2020. The wonderful Jay Ward and amazing Estelle Bajou enact the first and last days of a couple’s 7-year relationship: meeting during Ebola and Obama, breaking up during Covid and Trump.

Camp dad Mish Hassidim did the color grade, and camp mom Emily Zeitlyn is featured in the soundtrack on several songs with her band Arc Divers. The great bands Operators, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits are also featured in the soundtrack alongside John’s original score.

Our previous film, Small Time, is available on Amazon PrimeApple TV, and Google Play. Winner of numerous awards internationally, including five awards for Best Feature, Small Time is a dark tale of rural poverty and addiction as seen through the eyes of a young girl  played by Audrey Grace Marshall (The Flight Attendant, The Fairly OddParents).

Small Time is also not necessarily a film for kids - it deals with harsh realities of growing up in the shadow of the opioid crisis. Please watch the trailer before deciding to view as a family.

Small Time was written, shot, and directed by Ballibay’s head of media Niav Conty, produced and with an an original score by camp director John Jannone. Executive producers were Camp Ballibay and Academy Award nominee Oren Moverman. David Edelstein, long time film critic for New York magazine and CBS Sunday Morning, says of Small Time, "every frame carries wonder and dread… [a film] worthy of our finest humanist directors."

RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW.

December 21, 2021By sarah galante

Almost 15 years ago, our managing director Kristin Alexander established an annual residency at Ballibay with Annex Dance Company, her professional modern dance company located in Charleston, South Carolina. Each summer she brings a company member(s) to teach in our dance department and perform alongside the campers in the dance concert. This summer, Ballibay was fortunate enough to have Taylor Bennett, an Annex Dance Company apprentice and College of Charleston student all summer long. Taylor taught modern, jazz and hip-hop, and brought so much creativity, joy, and collaboration to our dance department. We hope we will be fortunate enough to continue to work with her for many summers to come.

Taylor Bennett and Rhianna Lewis, Camp Ballibay Dance Concert 2021. PC: Cydney Blitzer. 

During the second dance intensive, Kristin choreographed a new piece entitled Right Here. Right Now. Kristin, Taylor and the campers performed the piece to a score composed by camp director John Jannone, making it a succinct and lovely Ballibay collaboration for our final dance concert of the 2021 season. About five months after the Ballibay debut, Annex Dance Company premiered Right Here. Right Now. in Charleston. I spoke with Taylor and Kristin to discuss the differences and similarities between the two performances, and how it felt growing alongside a new and expanding piece of choreography.

Sofia Puccio and Kristin Alexander. Camp Ballibay Dance Concert, 2021. PC: Cydney Blitzer. 

How does a piece like Right Here. Right Now. become a part of the Annex Dance Company season?
Kristin: Every summer while the company is in-residence, I either set company repertory or create new work for us to perform with the campers in the dance concert.  When I create new choreography, I bring it back to Charleston to workshop with my company.  This season we had a performance planned in December that I knew would be the perfect concert to premiere Right Here. Right Now. in Charleston. 

Can you tell me what it was like to begin the process of Right Here. Right Now. at Camp Ballibay this summer?
Kristin: I really wanted to collaborate with John, so I was excited he wanted to work on a composition for the piece.  The music definitely influenced the creative direction, especially the movement vocabulary.  

Taylor: Kristin created choreography phrases for us to work with in rehearsal. We tried them as a group, in duets, and even transformed them into moments of connection and partnering.  She had a vision for the piece, but as she always does, allowed the creative process to be authentic and open to new ideas.  

What was it like performing this piece for the second time, this time without camper involvement, but with Annex Dance Company?
Kristin: It is always incredible to me how much we are able to accomplish at camp. Creating a new work and performing it with the campers in less than two weeks is challenging…and very rewarding.  Once back in Charleston we spent over a month working with the choreography, exploring the partnering, and finding new ways to be connected to one another and the music.

Taylor: The biggest difference was the playfulness we found as a company, which may have made it even more inviting for the audience. I love this piece, so I was all smiling the whole time while performing it this time around.

Taylor Bennett and Sydni Shaffer. Right Here. Right Now. The Pearlstine Theatre, Charleston, SC 2021. PC: DJ Connor. 

Was there anything from camp that you took with you into your most recent performance?
Kristin: Even with all the changes, I still felt very connected to the campers as I workshopped the piece and performed it with the company. 

Taylor: I took the joy from camp and used it in the most recent performance. At Camp Ballibay the campers were always having fun and enjoying their craft. I was doing the same while I performed this piece. 

We are so looking forward to the work Annex Dance Company will bring to Camp Ballibay in 2022! If you have a project you started at Ballibay that has continued and transformed during the off-season, please reach out to us! We would love to feature you on our next Balli-blog.
Taylor: The biggest difference was the playfulness we found as a company, which may have made it even more inviting for the audience. I love this piece, so I was all smiling the whole time while performing it this time around.

Tara Rooks and Bethany Willis. Right Here. Right Now. The Pearlstine Theatre, Charleston, SC 2021. PC: DJ Connor. 

WELCOME, 2021 CAMP BALLIBAY STAFF!

May 11, 2021By sarah galante

We are so excited to welcome both new and returning counselors for our 2021 season at Ballibay. The staff who join us every summer are passionate educators and gifted artists who are excited to both learn from and guide Ballibay campers. We’ve cultivated an exceptional team of professional artists, undergraduate, and graduate students who look forward to sharing their unique skills and experiences with every child this summer. I reached out to a few of our amazing staff members this summer to share about what they’ve been working on this year and what they are most looking forward to this summer!

We are highlighting a few of our staff members here, but make sure to head to our Staff Directory on the camp website to learn more about all Camp Ballibay’s 2021 Staff! 

Annie Yamamoto Theater Counselor

Name: Annie Yamamoto
Pronouns: she/her/hers
Location: Chicago, IL
Department: Theater
Position: General theater counselor

What artistic projects have you been working on this year?
Though I haven’t been performing nearly as much as I would like to (thanks, Covid), I have been using this time to work on my vocal technique and building my classical repertoire with my voice teacher. Since I do not have the usual added pressure of constantly preparing new material for concerts/showcases/recitals/etc, I have really been able to focus on things that I usually don’t get to spend much time on! I also have been rehearsing with a singing group that I am a part of called The Knights on Broadway. We have been preparing our first Covid friendly, masked, and socially distanced performance! Our show’s theme is focused on overcoming adversity, the importance of kindness, and mental illness. These are very important topics, especially in today’s world, and I am very excited to perform again!

What are you most excited about as a first-year staff member?
I am so excited about being around such talented, motivated, and friendly people! Ballibay has always been my home away from home and I am so excited to go back this time as a member of the staff rather than as a camper.

Andy Morrison Head of Rock

Name: Andrew Morrison
Pronouns:  He/Him/His
Location: Westchester County, NY
Department: Admin/Rock
Position: Head of Rock and Down the Hill Division Head

What artistic projects have you been working on this year?
2020: the year of recording!
A collaboration album with Astoria based “Astrogun”.
Untitled solo album.

What are you most looking forward to as a returning staff member?
Honest answer? Thunderstorms at Ballibay hit differently. Something about them makes me very happy. I am especially looking forward to having an offline community.

ABBIE GARRISON stage manager

Name: Abbie Garrison
Pronouns: she/her
Location: Lorain, OH
Department: Technical Theater
Position: Stage Manager 

What artistic projects have you been working on this year?
This past year I have been working closely with Sparks Theatre 4 Youth. Typically we take our shows on the road and perform during school assemblies, but with COVID guidelines we have to change it up. So instead of traveling, we filmed our shows and sent them out to different schools. In my free time I’ve been doing a lot of water coloring and sewing! 

What are you most looking forward to as a returning staff member?
After a year of isolation, I’m super excited to create alongside the campers and counselors.

Jack Thornley - Film and Media Counselor

Name: Jack Thornley
Pronouns: they/them
Location: York, PA
Department: Film & Media
Position: Film Counselor 

What artistic projects have you been working on this year?
So far this year, I’ve worked freelance and volunteered on many independent projects. Recently, my editing team just finished post-production on a play our university virtually performed, and I’ve also helped other students animate or edit their own finals and personal videos. In my free time, I develop and write scripts for a potential TV series with my partner.

What are you most excited about as a first-year staff member?
After a year of quarantining and isolation, what sounds better than a summer filled with fresh air surrounded by fellow artists? I’m most excited about the overall experience to be had at Camp Ballibay, and to see all the unique and individual art everyone will create! Working in Film & Media, I’m eager to return to a backstage setting and to supervise campers in multi-camera live productions.

Jeremiah Rodgers Music Counselor

Name: Jeremiah Rodgers
Pronouns: he/him
Location: State College, PA
Department: Music and Administration
Position: Brass Counselor and Events Coordinator 

What artistic projects have you been working on this year?
Due to limited close-quarter playing opportunities this past year much of my collaboration with other artists and musicians have been pre-recorded at home and presented virtually. I purchased various pieces of audio equipment for the purpose of recording and familiarized myself with different DAWs. I haven’t created any projects of my own, but I’ve been part of other recording projects for online release which included a few brass ensembles, a trombone quartet, a piece with former teachers and colleagues of mine with the DC Youth Orchestra, and a few others.

What are you most excited about as a first-year staff member?
I am most excited to explore the camp sight. I love nature and I love traveling so any opportunity I have to learn about an area I’m visiting for the very first time is one that I appreciate.

Jana Flynn Art Counselor

Name: Jana Flynn
Pronouns: She/Her
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Department: Visual Arts
Position: Visiting Artist Ceramics Instructor 

What artistic projects have you been working on this year?
Oh jeez, was this a tough year to continue making art but I launched a new ceramic line where the proceeds are donated to supporting non-profits and activist groups advocating for BLM, human rights, and protecting our planet.

What are you most excited about as a first-year staff member?
So many things!! Getting my hands dirty as much as possible, looking for shooting stars and fireflies, checking out the weaving studio, but most importantly collaborating with all the brilliant minds coming together at Ballibay

The entire Ballibay staff is so looking forward to collaborating with and caring for your children this summer! Please feel free to take a look at our Staff Directory to get to know a bit about our counselors and visiting artists in 2021.

THE SONG INSIDE

March 29, 2021By sarah galante

As we have officially hit the one-year mark of the pandemic, I am continually amazed by the inventiveness and creativity within the Ballibay community. This month’s Balliblog is all about one of Ballibay’s music directors and camp moms Deidre Struck. I had the opportunity to speak with Deidre this week to talk to her about her new music business: The Song Inside. As a professional musician, educator, and songwriter, Deidre has begun this business to show musicians and novices alike, that they too can write the song they always dreamed of. Deidre teaches songwriting, voice, and piano at Ballibay and is a music director for some of our musicals each summer. 

The Song Inside will include private coaching sessions with Deidre to work closely to create your own original song, group sessions to collaborate with other songwriters, and an online community for support and connection. Whether you are an experienced lyricist or musician 

struggling to work past writer’s block, or a beginner with a desire to write your very first song - Deidre is here to guide you through your songwriting journey. Deidre’s goals within her sessions are to bring joy and depth of emotion into the writing process, and to, ultimately, bring more original songs into the world!

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? 

Hi! I'm a Brooklyn-based pianist/singer/songwriter and Mom of two Ballibay kids. I'm originally from Idaho and moved to NYC to play keyboards for The Big Apple Circus in 1997. I never left! Since then, I've played a zillion gigs, released three jazz CDs on the Sunnyside Label, and spent a lot of time as a Teaching Artist for Carnegie Hall, specifically for The Lullaby Project. The Lullaby Project provides moms and dads in shelters, prisons, and hospitals a chance to partner with us to write lullabies for their kids. We then record the lullabies and have celebration concerts. It's ridiculously fun and rewarding. 

How did you come to know (and love) Ballibay? 

I learned about Ballilbay a few years ago through one of my piano students. That same summer, a friend of mine was a parent artist at Ballibay and told me what a great opportunity it was. Last summer was my first summer at Ballibay and I immediately knew: this place is exactly what I need, and what my kids need. It's like a family, but with art and meadows and shows! I played and coached for musicals, wrote the music and performed with the kids, and generally enjoyed life! 

What inspired you to begin The Song Inside? 

Since covid hit, I've thought a lot about what I think my calling is in the world. This deep dive inspired me to launch my dream business, The Song Inside! 

The Song Inside draws on my many years at Carnegie helping people tap into their inner songwriter. Most people don't believe they even have an inner songwriter, but I know differently!

I help individuals and groups write songs from the heart which were always there, but needed some coaxing to come out into light. 

What do you expect the process to look like? 

Eventually, The Song Inside will consist of four parts: one-on-one coaching to A) help songwriters break through blocks they have around current songs or B) start from scratch to create a new song, group workshops for collaboration, an online community, and a membership for support and fellowship, and a longer songwriting course. What makes it different from other songwriting coaching businesses is that I'm coming at it from a soul-centered perspective. I want people to find the joy, beauty, and healing that comes from creating original songs! 

What does it mean to you to express yourself through music? 

If there's one thing I've learned over my life, it's that music really is the universal language, and it's one that we all have inside us. Sometimes music can express things when words fail. Sometimes, words put with music make the words that much better. I look forward to my second magical summer at Ballibay. Who knows what music and songs this summer will bring? 

While speaking with Deidre and continuing to write these Balliblogs each month, I never cease to be absolutely blown away by my coworkers. Amidst my peers, there is a constant urge to create with innovation, openness, and collaboration - and while that is so clearly seen during our time at Ballibay it has been such a unique joy to explore it during this past year. You can learn more about Deidre, listen to some of her music (including one of my favorites written during the height of the pandemic Hug You), and contact her by visiting her website: www.pianogoddess.com

SHARED SPACES/SEPARATE PLACES: COLLABORATION THROUGH THE YEARS AT BALLIBAY

February 16, 2021By sarah galante

As artists, this strange year has brought about innumerable challenges. New and complicated questions are constantly arising as we attempt to create work in 2020-2021. Questions like, how do we continue to showcase our work when venues and galleries are closed to the public? How do we transition to virtual artmaking? And most importantly, how do we continue to be collaborative – a facet of art-making and of creativity that is essential to its growth and survival – when we are forced to be in isolation?  Camp director Kristin Alexander is no stranger to collaborative art-making. While not at camp she is the artistic director of Annex Dance Company – a professional modern dance company dedicated to performance, collaboration, and education rooted in her home, Charleston, South Carolina. Kristin and her company have worked in new and imaginative ways throughout their 2020-2021 season to not only bring dance to their community (and beyond) but to stay true to their philosophies of performance, collaboration, and education. 

A new series presented by Annex this year is entitled, Shared Spaces/Separate Places, pairing company members up with dance artists from around the country for a shared improvisation. Kristin immediately wanted to reach out to dancer and former Camp Ballibay camper, Lisa Kwak!

Lisa Kwak

Kristin Alexander

Kristin Alexander

Lisa, a Dance Intensive camper at Ballibay from 2009-2011, is now a professional dancer living in Seattle, Washington. She works with Dani Tirrell and the Congregation, The Guild Dance Company, and PRICEArts N.E.W. When not in rehearsal or taking dance classes, Lisa works at the University of Washington’s Department of Dance as their Operations and Media Specialist. 

When asked about the inspiration for the improvisation with former camper Lisa, Kristin said:

We chose REMINISCE and NOSTALGIA as our prompts.  Having a place like Ballibay as our connection reminded us of physical places like the studios, the hillside, the theatre as well as people and experiences over the summers we shared. After we improvised, we talked about the similarity of our experience in being present in our own space, aware of our shared virtual space and each other’s environment, and feeling connected to spaces at Ballibay.”

I got a chance to speak with Kristin and Lisa about the improvisation, their collaboration, and their shared experience at Ballibay. After so many years apart, (and this last year apart from regular social and collaborative connection) it was clear that Lisa and Kristin really enjoyed this time together. In speaking about her experience at Ballibay many summers ago, Lisa said: 

“When I was collaborating with Kristin I felt reminded of the feelings and sounds, scents-- sensations that I felt at Ballibay, more than specific memories. At the same time, I felt pulled into the 15-inch computer screen where Kristin was dancing, while also being aware of my current physical surroundings and body.  So, it was sort of a bizarre mix of being present with myself, being present in Zoom with Kristin and also accessing some forgotten crumbs of memories that you can feel but not quite envision - all at the same time.” 

It was clearly a special moment for Kristin, as well. Lisa had collaborated with Annex Dance company as a camper, and those special moments of collaboration and strong feelings of reminiscing clearly fueled their latest socially distanced duet. 

“It was amazing to feel a connection with someone after so many years with so many miles between us.  The last Annex Dance Company piece Lisa performed as a camper started with a solo that I had originally performed.  Even though the work has been performed a few times since then, I don't think anyone besides the two of us have danced that solo.  For me, the feelings of that piece rushed back when Lisa's smiling face popped up on Zoom.”

Those special moments were not forgotten by Lisa either. She continued to speak of her experiences as a camper at Ballibay saying,

 “I think more than anything Ballibay gave me confidence in myself and in my art. That was one of the first places I can remember where adults didn’t talk down to me, and where I felt really seen and respected and supported as a growing human being. I think that was huge for me as a teenager. And I don’t think that I would have had the guts to pursue dance again in college had I not had those formative experiences at Ballibay.” 

Collaborating on this piece was also a reminder of the important work created at Ballibay by Kristin every summer. An important reminder that camp holds such a special place in her heart, not just as a camp director, but as an artist. 

My summers at Ballibay fuel my creative and collaborative spirit.  So much happens day-to-day as a camp director, but I also walk away with meaningful moments shared with campers and staff in the studio and on the stage.  I love the creative process, and each summer I either start new work on the campers that eventually becomes a part of the company repertory or take a piece of existing repertory and set it on the campers.  Either way, new doors of possibility are opening up and informing my choreographic voice.  

You can watch Kristin and Lisa’s performance of Shared Spaces/Separate Places, here. After a long year of being apart, it is so immensely inspirational to watch members of the Ballibay community find new and innovative ways to collaborate alongside one another. It is proof, that even in these trying times, our community is resilient, dedicated, and innovative. Watching this gorgeous duet makes me not only excited for the inevitability of more collaborative pieces to arise in Summer 2021, but incredibly proud of the staff and alumni that I have the privilege of continuing to watch perform, create, and grow.

MY FIRST HOME AWAY FROM HOME

January 14, 2021By sarah galante

My sister was recently digging through the attic in my mother’s home in suburban Pennsylvania. While searching through dusty and untouched cardboard boxes for extra Christmas ornaments to perfect the tree, she came across an old box of art projects and essays I had written while in elementary school. Mementos that my mother had stored to, I imagine, revisit treasured memories in times exactly like these. Amidst the macaroni art and finger paintings, she came across a memoir project I had written in the sixth grade. Even then, it was apparent I liked writing. The project was nearly fifty pages long and filled with run-on sentences and gusto. My sister texted me photos of a chapter I had written on my favorite place in the world. It was titled: Chapter 11: Ballibay.

In reading these words I had written about a place that has now become such a permanent fixture in my adult life, I realized I didn’t remember the memoir assignment. I didn’t remember which teacher assigned the project, or what grade I received. But what I did remember was what I felt being a camper at Ballibay for the first time, over fifteen years ago. I had always struggled in school. I spent a lot of recess reading books of poetry my mother had tucked away in my neon orange backpack or trying (and mostly failing) to convince the other kids in my class to put on Harry Potter plays I’d written in my composition notebooks. I excelled in academics, but only managed to make one or two friends. If you can believe it, kids weren’t exactly lining up to watch Steel Magnolias during Friday night slumber parties.  

 Then, when I was eleven years old, my parents registered me for two weeks at Ballibay. I remember having stomachaches in the days leading up to my arrival. I was certain that camp would be just like school. I’d be unable to make friends and would spend the majority of my time reading alone – only here, I wouldn’t be able to go home at the end of the day. What it instead turned out to be, as is so eloquently stated in my sixth-grade memoir, was my absolute favorite thing in the world. A place where I could finally truly be myself. A place where making friends didn’t feel like a chore, but rather a simple and smooth adjustment. An environment where suddenly my fascination with creating my own plays and making up my own songs wasn’t a punchline at recess – but was part of my daily routine. It was my first home away from home. That following Christmas the only thing on my list of gifts was returning to Ballibay.  

 Rereading the words I had written at age twelve flooded me with memories. I’ve been lucky to have had a few other places that have felt like home since that time. Attending an arts university, apprenticing at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, and eventually after a few rocky months, New York City. But Ballibay was the first. It was the first environment where I felt like I was not only allowed to be the slightly strange and quirky child I was - it was encouraged. It was a place I longed for all school year long, counting down the days (literally) until I could return to be with “my people.”  

 If you had told eleven-year-old Sarah that Ballibay would still be an enormous part of her life, seventeen years later, I think she would be elated – but not surprised. Ballibay has transformed me in so many different ways over my nine summers spent there. But whether it was as a camper, a staff member, or as the Associate Director, it has consistently been a place where I can trust my instincts, make new friends, and truly be myself.  It is a place that even now fills me with warmth and comfort when I pull up that long dirt road. It is the first place to believe in my artistic ability and offer me a job when I was an undergraduate student. The place where I first met my husband – in the Ballibay theater where I performed as a child. It is now the place where I have the privilege to watch so many young people find their first home away from home. Their safe haven. The place where they can truly be themselves.

HOW THE BALLIBAY COMMUNITY IS STAYING CREATIVE AND CONNECTED

October 23, 2020By sarah galante

Sculpture from Quarantine Series by Ballibay Visiting Artist Janine Sopp

For the last seven months, it felt as if the world has been on pause. Simple things we took for granted like deciding last minute to pop into a Sunday matinee at our neighborhood movie theater, or sitting for a bit too long on your laptop in your favorite coffee shop have become treasured memories. Things we did in the before Covid times. While we, of course, care more about the safety of our communities than these small simple pleasures, that feeling of longing for any semblance of normalcy lingers. And as a community of artists, not being able to join together this summer to do what we do best - collaborate and create with joy and fearlessness, was a real blow. However, just because we were unable to be physically together this summer, our inherent creativity and need to develop new artistic practices did not disappear. Despite the world being on pause, despite the fear and anxiety of living in the world in 2020 - we had to do what we were made to do. Make art. We reached out to some members of the Ballibay community to see the kind of art they had been making this year, and where their inspiration to create was stemming from during these unprecedented times.

Abstract painting by Ballibay's Head of Visual Arts Sara Galkin, April 2020

The head of our visual arts program, Sara Galkin, decided, like so many of us to leave New York City temporarily. She relocated with her family to Vermont to have a little bit more space. While they were given more physical living space, Sara’s art-making space had suddenly become much smaller, especially in the colder months when she was unable to work outside. While in Vermont, she reexamined her own artistic practices amidst the pandemic.

“It has been more challenging than I thought it would be to keep the connection to my creativity. I was working smaller because my space to create was smaller, with more restrictions. I was finding that this smaller space was not only limited to the size of canvas I was working on but the way in which I work.  Generally, I am very messy. Getting lost in the moment has always been a fundamental part of my process. This freedom of open expression is critical to my practice. In this smaller space, I felt constricted, but new work was being created because of it. I was able to set up a workspace in the basement in April, with very little natural light and I made a few pieces using and ink. In the warmer months of July, I set up space outdoors in a barn adjacent to the house with natural light where I could work with oils. You can see the difference in the artwork created between April and July. It was an interesting and exciting new exploratory phase.”

Abstract painting by Ballibay's Head of Visual Arts Sara Galkin, July 2020

Our head of Technical Theater, Dustin Druckman, also kept himself busy during the shutdown. Dustin is currently the Technical Coordinator at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts which, like so many live performance spaces around the world, had to unexpectedly cancel the remainder of their season. But Dustin was still able to think outside of the box to continue his creative practices. 

A lot has changed for me since March. With my work at Marathon put on hold, it just so happened that the University of Findlay needed a technical director and someone to teach an intro to stage technology class, and all of a sudden I had more free time. With the university, we are doing two shows this semester. The first was an improv show that we streamed. The performers all wore masks and the staged was marked off at 6ft increments and was played as another game making all the performers stay apart from each other. It was very funny. The second show is a staged radio drama of It’s a Wonderful Life. I am doing the set and lighting design. Radio Dramas are perfect for this Covid time since they were performed without a live audience anyway!”

Dustin has also been working on some visual art in his time away from the University of Findlay, inspired by work he created with campers in 2019 at Ballibay!

Light Painting Photography by Ballibay's Head of Technical Theater, Dustin Druckman

“I have been working on some more of my light painting which was a project I actually started at camp last summer with some of the campers on jam night. I honestly think the biggest thing I’ve learned about my craft this year is how much I need it in my life. I’m not going to say I was going crazy without a good artistic outlet but at times it felt like I was. It was an excellent reminder that I love what I do every day and that I can’t wait to get back to it no matter how stressful and how many long hours I have” 

Dustin Light Photo

Light Painting Photography by Ballibay's Head of Technical Theater, Dustin Druckman

And just as our staff has been staying creative during this time, so have our campers! Kya Parris who has been a camper at Ballibay for five summers has stayed exceptionally busy during this time, exploring all types of artistic mediums.

Ballibay camper Kya Parris drawing in Greenwood Cemetery

“Greenwood Cemetery is practically in our front yard! Their extended COVID-hours gave us the opportunity for long walks, watching the cherry blossoms and azaleas bloom, and drawing these beautiful statues. Sometimes just me and sometimes with my mom.”

Kya also explored other artistic mediums during her newfound free time. Making embroidery projects for school, and even a series of crocheted purses with buttons she handmade from clay, made us wish we could see these pieces in the Art Barn!

Kya’s mother, Janine Sopp, has also been a visiting artist at Ballibay for many seasons. Just like Kya, she created some beautiful work during the quarantine.

Masks by Ballibay Visiting Artist Janine Sopp

Janine created some masks with gorgeous shibori fabric she made with visiting artist Cathy Maguire two summers ago at camp! She also created a “quarantine series” of sculpture work,  after rekindling her love of architectural design while working in her home. spending so much time in the same space had reminded her of her love of architectural work.

Sculpture from Quarantine Series by Ballibay Visiting Artist Janine Sopp

While we, of course, wish we could have been together this summer to create art in person, we have been so inspired by the work our community continues to create despite the ever-changing world we are living in, and the challenges we face. We cannot wait to be with you all in person again for Summer 2021, after a year of artistic growth and change.