With these fierce words, yelled at top volume by everyone present, hip-hop dancer and filmmaker Steven Nicholas Smith gets his 60 campers to wake up, look alive, and claim their artistic identities, every day of the Indigenous Pitch Summer Camp in New Orleans.

Supported by dancers who are part of a ethnically diverse collective of Philadelphia-based dance companies, Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective www.indigenouspitch.org began in 2006 as a group of performers whose goal was to create and perform works that reflect the native, homegrown dance styles that grew up in the fertile funk that is Philadelphia (and I can say that with pride because I’m from there). Its mission evolved in 2007 after director Lisa Welsh of First Position Movement Arts Center attended a presentation on the devastating aftermath of New Orleans. Knowing she probably wasn’t going to excel with hammer and nails, she thought, “Well, I know kids. And I know how to help them have fun.”

And right there, the first free Indigenous Pitch New Orleans Summer Camp began. From July 28-August 10, 11 volunteer dancers traveled to New Orleans to teach more than 60 underprivileged kids, ages 6-18, the art of hip-hop, ballet, tap, breakin’, afro-modern, jazz funk and yoga…as well as classes in the visual and literary arts. Each day’s events had a theme such as Connections, Trust, Unity, Culture – that was explored in dance, art and writing.

For New Orleans children in desperate need of involvement, expression, and plain old fun, the camp was a blessed release. For the Indigenous Pitch dancers & instructors, it was an eye- and heart-opening experience.

Since that first camp in 2007, Indigenous Pitch has been back to hold camps in New Orleans every year, and evolved its mission to assist and nurture children affected by natural and socioeconomic disasters through dance & expression camps in North Philadelphia (2 camps a year), NOLA (6) and this July 4, one in Limbe, Haiti (assuming someone comes up with a plane to take them there – hint, hint.) Over 50% of their campers live below the poverty level and have virtually no access to the arts or dance — much less to pilates and yoga.

Why dance as therapy? As Executive Director Nicole LaBonde explains, “When kids go through trauma, they need to express it – through movement, or words, or just play. And that’s what we do – we move, dance, and play with the kids – and it’s really a powerful joy.”

Because these IPDC dancers are devoting their winter and spring breaks to bringing that joy to Philadelphia inner city children, and their summers to kids in Haiti and New Orleans, I’ll be devoting my $100 to Indigenous Pitch. (And if you give now, you may help them win the Razoo March Goodness contest!) http://www.razoo.com/story/Mg2010-Razoo-Nit-Indigenous-Pitch-Dance-Collective