An Exclusive Look at Stacey Tookey's One-of-a-Kind, Cell Phone-Free Summer Intensive

All photos Anna Marchisello and Jacob Patrick (courtesy Stacey Tookey)

Deep in the hills just outside Calgary, Alberta, Camp Kindle sits unassumingly, nestled in a forest clearing. With rustic cabins, a glassy lake, sprawling lawns, and a giant ropes course, the scene looks like the set of an old-school movie about summer camp- which is why it's so surprising to learn that, for one week each August, some of the competition circuit's most gifted dancers arrive there en masse for Stacey Tookey's Camp Protégé.


"Camp," as it's often referred to by the dancers and faculty, was founded by Tookey in 2016 as a part of her Protégé Movement, which is a series of three-day intensives in L.A., NYC, and Toronto. In the three years since, a spot at Camp has become one of the most sought-after trophies in the competition-convention world, thanks in large part to the unprecedented access to top-tier faculty and unique setting. But beyond that, Tookey has created a world where judgement, self-doubt, and distractions are stripped away and replaced with a sense of safety—in Tookey's words, "Permission to be free." Dance Spirit went inside this one-of-a-kind intensive for a firsthand look.

Dancers group hug after class.

Total Isolation

Upon arriving, one thing becomes immediately clear: Whether you like it or not, you're off the grid. "It was a little shocking at first," remembers Tate McRae, who's been attending Camp since the first year. "You have a mini anxiety attack when you realize there's zero cell service, but you become so aware of everything around you, which is what makes the week so special." Parents and guardians are notified by the staff once the dancers have safely arrived, but after that, getting in touch via cell phone is next to impossible— which is a blessing in disguise. Tookey knows just how plugged in this generation of dancers is. "I don't think they even realize just how addicted they are to their phones, until they get here," she says. "They need to disconnect, because removing the external gratification of, say, hundreds of likes on an Instagram post forces them to find confidence internally, and helps them grow as people." To fill the phone void, Tookey gives each dancer a journal and a pen at the start of Camp, and encourages them to write down everything they're feeling over the course of the week- time that, everyone admits, would usually be spent scrolling through IG.

Protégés enjoy off the grid moments in Camp's scenery.

Jam-Packed Days

Days at Camp start around 7 am with breakfast, then group yoga and meditation. "I like to start and end every day together," Tookey says. Afterwards, dancers break into groups and head to two classes before lunch, and three before dinner. Classes include technigue, choreography, an assortment of nutrition and self-care lessons, acting classes, neuromuscular training, Q&As, and a camp activity like a ropes course. The day ends with dinner and a wrap up class with all the students and faculty.

Dancers moving across the floor in contemporary


"It's About Dancing for Yourself"

Creating a safe, accepting place is Tookey's main goal for Camp, something comp-circuit standout Timmy Blankenship felt right away. "Stacey truly created a space that was filled with total acceptance," he says. "There are no cameras, no judgment. It's about dancing for yourself." "I want every dancer to feel connected, loved, and safe," Tookey says. "We're all working towards the best versions of ourselves, together."

Chantel Aguirre (front) leading a warm up before class

Going with the Flow

"We have a schedule, but often we just follow the vibe of the day when it comes to the dance classes," Tookey says. This organic approach is a highlight for lots of the dancers, including USC Kaufman student Elise Monson, who's attended Camp twice and has assisted Tookey at Protege in L.A. "Stacey wanted Camp to act as a mentorship program for us, and it really does feel like life training," she says. "Rather than just spending time trying to execute a set combination, the classes shape us as humans. We talk about our struggles, our successes, what makes us feel scared, what makes us feel free. It was so much more holistic than a standard convention." Tate agrees. "Classes are where the magic happens. They're totally unpredictable and the energy is crazy. You can end up improvising for an hour, just talking, or all crying together!"

Morning yoga class


Dancers and faculty during a wrap up class

Faculty Equals Family

The faculty at Camp is made up of some of the comp circuit's biggest names, including Kathryn McCormick, Jason Parsons, and Chantel Aguirre. But unlike a convention weekend, they're not just teaching class and heading back to their hotel rooms. "We're all living together, eating meals together, and bonding," Tookey says. "I want the dancers to be able to walk up to the faculty members with questions, concerns, or whatever else. I wouldn't be where I am today without my mentors, so I want to nurture this next generation and pay it forward."

(From left) Jacob Patrick, Kathryn McCormick, Jenn Perry, Heather Lang, Chantel Aguirre, Stacey Tookey's daughter Harper, Tookey, Gene Gabriel, and Jason Parsons

More Than Connected

If there's one thing dancers walk away with from Camp, it's a deep connection with their fellow Protégés. "Because we don't have our phones and are dancing nonstop, we're constantly engaged in physical and emotional contact," Monson says. "That breaks boundaries and creates very special, lifelong connections."

Dancers debrief Camp experiences

A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title,"This Must Be The Place."

Latest Posts


All photos by Jayme Thornton. Wardrobe styling throughout by Chloë Chadá Van for The QUIRK Group.

Lizzo's Leading Ladies: Meet the Big Grrrls

Rising pop superstar Lizzo is changing the game in all kinds of ways. (A singer who also raps and plays the flute? You'd better believe it.) But she's become an especially important leader in the body-positivity revolution. And that emphasis on diversity and self-love extends to her fabulous group of backup dancers, known as The Big Grrrls.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Because there's never been a better time to get your TikTok on. (Getty Images/TikTok)

7 of the Best TikTok Dance Challenges to Learn While Stuck at Home

Right now, a lot of us are social-distancing. Which is a good thing for the community. But for dancers, being at home—read: not in the studio—can be especially tough.

Enter TikTok. The app is blowing up right now, with everyone from Hailey Bieber to LeBron James to former Bachelorette (and "Dancing with the Stars" champ) Hannah Brown making accounts to stave off the stir-craziness.

To get you started on your TikTok journey, Dance Spirit rounded up seven of the best dances for you to learn. And when you're ready to share the fruits of your TikTok labors, be sure to tag us @dancespiritmagazine—we'll repost some of our faves!

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.

Margaret

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search