Director Dale Lewis Celebrates 25 Years
at Usdan & Usdan Celebrates 40
Over the years, each summer, more than 50,000 youngsters, ages 6-18, approximately 1,600 a day, now—some from as far away as NJ, Riverhead and Westchester County—know that when their air-conditioned chartered buses hit Exit 49N, of the L.I.E., they’re just minutes away from a wonderland in the woods that Time Magazine called “one of America’s most unique camps.” With 200 acres and 70 buildings that house music and art studios, galleries and theatres, Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts can easily lay claim to being one of the most physically impressive, professional and yet relaxed venues for pursuing music (classical, pop, jazz, folk, choral), painting, ceramics, computer graphics, cartooning, dance (classical, modern, Broadway, tap), drama, photography, film and creative writing, under the loving guidance of well known artists. Usdan also takes itself seriously as a camp, however, and in addition to the courses students elect (two hours a day for a major, one hour for a minor, which can include recreational sports), they also swim an hour in one of the camp’s two Olympic-size pools.
The success of Usdan is easily inferred from the unsolicited letters Dale Lewis receives daily, all year long, some missives accompanied by artwork. Alumnae, fondly recalling what Suzanne Usdan calls their “life-changing summers” at the camp, are eager to enroll their own children, though word-of-mouth among neighbors and friends is as much responsible for Usdan’s extraordinary growth, some of it in areas that may not at first seem related to the arts. But, on reflection, Dale Lewis suggests, the more recent course additions in chess and nature and ecology fit in beautifully. Nature and ecology, for example, encourages youngsters to replicate sounds found in nature and to make sculptures out of found objects. Indeed, he laughs, in a recent poll asking campers what they’d like to see added, perhaps in future years, culinary “arts” came in number one! How a major in such an area might affect appreciation of the long-standing tradition of free ice cream at the end of the Usdan day remains to be seen, though Lewis expects that this joyous exit treat will continue.
Though Usdan has been described as a place “where you can lose yourself for a summer and find yourself for a lifetime,” the fact is, as Lewis points out, that an overwhelming number of youngsters do discover or refine their love of the arts at Usdan, while not feeling pressured to pursue these interests later on. Of course, many do, profiting from the camp’s individual and group lessons. Lewis himself, a graduate of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, switched gears when he gave up a successful career as a cellist, having made a Carnegie Recital Hall debut when he was 12, as the winner of the New York String Teachers Guild competition, then soloing in this country and abroad and playing cello in the Alberg Trio, eventually moving on to assume various faculty positions in music. For 18 years he held the title of Music Director of the Westchester Junior Orchestra.
The 25 years have been deeply rewarding, Lewis says, particularly as he looks back on recent accomplishments—adding technology-based arts courses, a new Discovery Program for ages 6-8), instituting an association between Usdan and the Joffrey Ballet, co-creating the Heckscher- Usdan Student Art Institute (with year-round capabilities), superintending the construction of the 1,000-seat McKinley Amphitheater for Music and Dance, and introducing and sustaining Usdan residences in ballet (San Jose, CA), chamber music (Tokyo String Quartet) and brass—the Canadian Brass, what else! Cheerful, confident, he also looks ahead and is especially pleased with a new direction that will kick in this summer: the Usdan College Prep Center that will assist upper division students in selecting and applying to colleges, preparing for the SATs and, in September, engaging students in an intensive weekend of essay writing and coaching in auditions and stage techniques. This unusual and inspired program will bridge the gap between summer fun and the usual college prep hysteria seniors face back in the academic world. It will also give youngsters information about little known but great colleges “out there,” including well-regarded conservatories that would love to hear from Usdan graduates. Regardless, at Usdan all youngsters, regardless of level of ability, have an opportunity not only to embrace the creative and performing arts in a professional setting, Lewis emphasizes, but to form life-long friendships, meet mentors, have their minds opened to new experiences.
For more info: www.usdan.com or call 212-772-6060.#