Thankful for Brant Lake Dance Camp

‘Tis the season to be thankful! After eight summers at Brant Lake Dance Camp, I still thank my parents for sending me to such a magical place all those years ago. I feel immense gratitude for all BLDC has done for me. From singing the Alma Mater with our arms draped over each other to our epic lip sync battles, camp is a place filled with love, laughter and lifelong friends. After eight years I still have regular reunions with Z Cabin of 2010!

Brant Lake Dance Camp is a place that fosters leadership, confidence and unconditional love. What’s unique about BLDC is that competition doesn’t exist, we as a community push each other to grow in this art that we love. Mia Michaels said it best: “If you dance with your heart, your body will follow.” I also learned if you dance with your best friends the fun will follow. I love how BLDC mixes a structured dance curriculum (with amazing teachers) while still emphasizing the fun of camp. What other place brings girls who all love to dance together while having campfires and cozy movie nights? At Brant Lake Dance Camp you come for the dance, and stay for the friendships!

The best part about going from camper to counselor to key staff is that I get to grow with those campers who return with me. Whether it be the lifelong camper who is in her last summer or the camper who worked endlessly over the summer to get her triple pirouette and debuts it during WIPs (Works In Progress). I was at another camp for five years before coming to BLDC, and I realized Brant Lake Dance Camp goes beyond what it means to be an exceptional camp.

I thank Brant Lake for giving me a place to enjoy my summers, and for also helping me realize what I wanted to do career-wise. As an aspiring educator in my first graduate school year, I get to use what I learned at BLDC in my classrooms.

So, while I am munching on my turkey this month, I am also counting down the days ‘till camp and reminiscing about BLDC Cupcake Wars and snuggling up with hot chocolate on the rocking chairs with my Brant Lake Dance Camp family.

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Five True Things about Camp Laurel

  1. At camp you learn more about yourself in one day than you do in one month in the real world. And that’s not an exaggeration. At camp, every day can be a transformative experience. So many campers accomplish new things they wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to try at home, all with the support of passionate counselors.
  2. Speaking of passionate counselors, at camp you meet the most spectacular people, and they will inevitably become some of your closest friends. That’s the beauty of an experience like camp: you get to know people from different backgrounds but find the similarities you share. As a bonus, you now have friends from all the country and around the world!
  3. Camp is sort of like s’mores, you can’t just have one (or in this case, you can’t just go once). Of course, once I got a taste of Camp Laurel, I couldn’t stay away. Camp Laurel feels like the home I never knew I was missing. When I’m there everything is right with the world. 
  4. Once camp is over, you will try and try to articulate what it means to you. But it’s impossible to talk fully about camp to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Much of my life in the winter is spent in this sappy mood—missing people and places that are a few months away. I’m so happy that I have something/someone worth missing; I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  5. Camp Laurel is the most magical place I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience. Camp is laughing harder than you ever have in your life, playing games with new friends and singing songs in The Lodge at the top of your lungs. Camp is looking out the window of the bus as you slowly pull away and thinking: I’m not done with you yet. Camp is knowing you have a home away from home.


Get a Real Job

For many counselors at America’s Finest Summer Camps, their experience as a camp counselor is also their first experience in the workforce. Many counselors have the opportunity to spend the summer on one of the nation’s most beautiful campsites, enjoying all of the classic sleepaway camp adventures, and get paid for it. Their first job is not spent waiting tables or washing cars or serving coffee, but instead spent shaping the lives of kids and teens and learning valuable life skills they can apply to their future careers.

A first job is a milestone in any young adult’s life and is an opportunity to learn responsibility, time management, teamwork, and commitment. It teaches the value of hard work and gives the individual ownership over the money they make. The attitude towards an after-school or part-time job can be that of reluctance, as young adults sometimes feel that a job gets in the way of their social life. However, for the lucky few who get to be summer camp counselors for their first job, it’s a different story. Working as a counselor doesn’t feel like work, because it is fun.

Counselors are in charge of inspiring and motivating campers to try new things. They get to be in on the action as campers score goals, put on plays, and explore. They facilitate friendships, teach camp traditions, offer cures for homesickness and an ear to listen. They are role models for campers and serve as the big brothers or sisters that many campers have never had.

They are responsible for making sure campers are safe and responsible, that they get where they need to be and do what they’re supposed to do. They are in charge of teams of people and are required to be effective communicators for camp to run smoothly. If this isn’t a training ground for the world’s best leaders, we’re not sure what is. The skills counselors learn during their time at camp easily roll over into other aspects of their lives and prepare them for the future.

However, the job of the counselor is not confined to working with campers. Counselors also interact with a team of other counselors and staff, providing countless opportunities to foster their communication, teamwork, listening, and leadership skills. With so many counselors and staff at camp each summer, each counselor has the opportunity to learn how to work effectively with people with different ideas, backgrounds, communication styles, and personalities. If you can work with hundreds of kids all summer and a handful of other counselors, what can’t you handle?

If your idea of an ideal first job is clocking in and out of a business that you aren’t passionate about, to work alongside people you’re not crazy about, a job at America’s Finest Summer Camps is not for you. However, if you love the idea of changing lives, singing songs, eating s’mores, swimming, dancing, and connecting with people from all over the world all summer, and getting paid for it, we’re ready for your resume.

Sports At Camp

Sports play a significant role in the lives of boys and girls across the country. Many children are encouraged by parents and teachers to try a sport, make the team, and be the best. Although the intentions are good, many children and teenagers get burnt out quickly due to the pressure put on them by well-meaning adults. They quickly feel obligated to perform instead of finding the joy in the game. And while this is not the case for all children, it is becoming more and more of an issue across the country.

America’s Finest Summer Camps takes a slightly different approach towards kids and sports. Many campers come to camp with a predisposition about what sports they are good at and which ones they aren’t. They assume that since they’ve played soccer since they were 4, they are exclusively soccer players. They don’t realize that although they’re familiar with soccer, it’s not the only thing they are allowed to try and enjoy. America’s Finest Summer Camps encourage athletes to try new things, to branch out from their comfort zones and get active in a sport that is new to them. Gymnasts at home become volleyball players at camp. Basketball players discover their love for golf. Camp gives campers a chance to try new sports that may not be offered in their schools or communities. And of course, for those who are passionate about their sport, camp gives them the entire summer to do what they love, perfect their craft, and surround themselves with other athletes who are passionate about the sport.

Sports at camp are different than sports at home because the pressure is off. Sports are played to teach teamwork and sportsmanship. Sports are played to give campers a healthy way to relieve stress, to get in a good workout, and to practice goal setting. Sports at camp are designed to bring campers together through healthy competition. Participating in sports builds confidence and strengthens relationships, and provides a safe outlet for campers to try new things without judgment or pressure.

Team sports like baseball, basketball, flag football lacrosse, soccer, and softball bring campers together towards a common goal. These sports encourage campers to work together on the field or court, which then translates to working together in other areas of camp life too. Playing a team sport allows campers to connect with other campers whom they may not have met otherwise.

Individual sports like aerobics and figure skating still puts campers in group settings but allows them to focus on their personal skill set, goals, and abilities. No matter what type of sports campers play, they’re always surrounded by people who encourage them to be their best. There are no stressed-out parents to worry about, no crazy coaches screaming from the sidelines. Just friends, playing together for the fun of it.

Campers can engage in sports as much or as little as they want to at camp. Seasoned athletes can work on new skills and improving their current skills, while new athletes can feel safe trying something new surrounded by the encouragement and support of their counselors and fellow campers. America’s Finest Summer Camps have built a reputation for offering an incredible sleepaway camp experience that combines art, music, sports, good food, great friends and the beautiful outdoors in a way that every camper will easily fall in love with.

The Big Picture

It’s easy for children to think of their entire lives in the context of their “nucleus,”’ their home, their community, their school, their family, their friends. They typically have no need to seek beyond their immediate surroundings, and their perspective of the world is seen through a restrictive lens based on where they live and the things they’ve experienced. Attending a sleepaway camp gives children and teens a way to broaden their worldview, to see themselves as a small (yet important) part of the bigger picture. America’s Finest Summer Camps get campers out of their comfort zones and allow them to catch a glimpse of how much world they have to explore.

Exposure To A New Place
For campers who have lived their entire lives in the hustle and bustle of a big city are in for a shock when they step foot onto the campgrounds. For some campers, the first time they explore the wilderness or really see a constellation is at camp. Even campers from rural areas are in for a treat as they spend the summer in a place busy with people, excitement and adventure. The experience of the journey from home to camp can help campers see that there is much more to explore outside of their familiar life.

Exposure To New People
America’s Finest Summer Camps bring people together from all across the globe, and is responsible for thousands of lifelong friendships. Boys and girls spend night and day with others who come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and experiences. Working, playing and growing together at camp allows campers to break through stereotypes and appreciate diversity in a brand new way. Some campers come from places where everyone thinks, looks and acts just like them. It’s refreshing for them to see that the world is full of incredible people with so much to teach them.

Exposure To Independence
Sleepaway camps give campers the opportunity to venture out in a new place without their parents walking them through it. This experience helps campers gain a sense of independence and realize that they are strong enough, smart enough and more than capable enough to make positive decisions on their own. Giving campers this sense of freedom and independence allows them to do some self-discovery to understand further who they are and what they can contribute to the world around them. They learn things about themselves that they didn’t know, and they begin to ask the questions that will help them determine who they are becoming outside of their family and friends.

Exposure To New Activities
America’s Finest Summer Camps packs every day of the summer with fun and adventure. Some campers arrive never having been on a boat before, or never having access to a dance class or have never been rock climbing, but camp changes all of that. Camp is the place where so many “firsts” happen, all of which open up new windows in the brain and increase their understanding of the countless adventures and travels awaiting them. Some campers fall in love with sports they never even knew existed, which can be the first step in a lifelong passion. Campers who have the sleepaway camp experience go home with a desire to learn more about the world around them. This exposure to new things and people shifts their perspective and helps them realize that there is so much to the world than what they know.

It’s important for children and teens to understand that the world doesn’t actually revolve around them. They are part of something bigger, and the sooner we can ignite the excitement in discovering just what that “something” is, the better. The sooner campers can grasp the idea of a big wide world just waiting for their gifts and talents, the sooner we can develop leaders who are excited to serve, lead, love and explore the world beyond their comfort zone.

Dance Concerts to See this Holiday Season

Brant Lake Dance Camp

October’s the month to plan what Dance Company you’re going to see this Holiday Season.

As developing dancers at BLDC, we all know there are many ways to learn and grow as dancers. We always talk about watching and learning from other dancers. Since we are not physically at camp now (insert ugly crying face), there are many other amazing opportunities to learn and watch other dancers!

With the holidays right around the corner, now is the time to plan your concert dates. Buy the tickets now and get it on your Holiday calendars. For me this means my personal favorite dance performance is ready to get back on stage: The Christmas Spectacular starring The Radio City Rockettes. It’s an unbelievable show filled with beautiful lights, props, costumes, and the most talented dancers! This show has been a beloved holiday tradition for generations in NYC and my family.

Another way I see our BLDC dancers connecting to the Christmas Spectacular is the passion to try new things! This year’s show will have a few new and exciting elements added in. The director said “100 drones, representing Christmas lights, will magically surround Santa Claus on stage, forming various shapes and patterns.” How amazing?!

Now is the time to get your tickets and make that plan whether you’re an NYC Ballet Nutcracker fan, or Prefer BAM to see Mark Morris’ Hard Nut, or a Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular fan, or your favorite home city performance. If you’re in the NYC area November through December, I recommend seeing the show!

Olivia Damson,
Assistant Director, Brant Lake Dance Camp

Rockettes, A Christmas Spectacular 2017


Mark Morris, A Hard Nut

October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Brant Lake Sports Academy

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What are you doing to spread the word?


National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international health campaign organized by major charities every October to increase awareness and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.


Take action through exercise. Cycle for Survival or Race for the Cure are just two ways to get involved.

Wear swag.  Did you notice NFL players wearing pink cleats or celebrities with their pink ribbons? You can purchase your own swag too!

Host your own fundraiser.  Whether it’s in your office, at your school or even at your own home, there are many ways to independently raise money. Host a bake sale, organize a town run, make and sell your own pink gear.


Breast cancer is one of the leading health crises for women in the United States. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. There is currently no known cure for breast cancer, and its early diagnosis is critical to survival.


Rachel Milim

Brant Lake Sports Academy

Camp Tradition Inspires Innovation

Laurel South:

Tradition. It’s one of those camp words. It brings forth images of making bracelets, playing games and campfires. All things that go hand-in-hand with every sleepaway camp. But what’s sometimes lost in the talk of tradition is how inspiring it can be. Tradition helps campers feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Camp becomes a second home, and friends become part of a camp family. In short, tradition helps campers feel safe. And camp helps campers feel comfortable taking “safe risks.

Campers will undoubtedly learn new things each summer. They’ll play new sports, conquer the climbing wall or learn to waterski. But steeped in camp tradition is another thing campers will find: creativity. When children are surrounded by positive reinforcement from their cabinmates and counselors, they move boldly forward with enthusiasm for new ideas. They also learn to communicate and listen effectively, taking in thoughts and guidance from those around them. Children talk endlessly with their friends about ideas, which helps them process steps for making their dreams a reality. It’s the perfect environment for inspiration and innovation. So when it comes to camp-words like “Tradition, Community and Values,” camp people should remember to include “Innovation.”

Why Campers Return as Counselors

For many campers, summer camp becomes a second home, a special place that welcomes you back every summer like family and supports you to be the best person you can be. America’s Finest Summer Camps become a staple in many campers lives’ and for a few of them, it becomes a home they never leave when they decide to return as counselors.

When they left summer camp they realized they didn’t want their last summer as a camper to be the last time they get to watch a sunset over the lake or sing a song around the campfire, they wanted to continue to live through those traditions. After spending eight summers as a camper that gets to experience all the playful fun of camp, campers will transition to the role of counselors to experience summer camp in a whole different way. Former Camper Counselors return to America’s Finest Summer Camps so they can help campers live the same amazing summers that they once did. These counselors recognize that when they were campers, their own counselors were the ones to push them out of their comfort zone and pick them up every time they were down, helping them become the individuals they are today. This is why so many campers return to become counselors, they want to change lives the way their own lives were changed. They want to help a camper find their passion and make them realize that camp is their home when they feel homesick. They want to help campers understand how special of a place camp is and that the happiness they find here will guide them for the rest of their lives, but most of all, campers return as counselors because they want to spread the love they have received from every summer spent at America’s Finest Summer Camps.


Things I Didn’t Expect to Learn as a Counselor

Camp Laurel

I came to camp believing I would make a difference. It was the biggest reason I chose to pursue being a counselor rather than heading off to an internship. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt after accepting a job and how excited I was to get to camp. Then Orientation came and went, and the entire group of counselors for summer 2018 was ready to make a difference. What I didn’t expect was how much of a difference the campers would make to me. Here are a few of the lessons I learned from them:

Time is Everything

It’s easy to hear that respect is a two-way street; it’s different to live it. Campers and counselors always earn each other’s respect. Halfway through the summer my campers were listening and reacting better to what my co-counselors and I were saying than they were in the opening week. I realized this was because our engagement level with them was higher than ever, and our campers could see and feel the commitment we had for them. Spending extra time with them making bracelets at Rest Hour, reading stories at night and helping facilitate the fun made everyone’s lives happier and easier.

It’s Encouraged to Find Help

I never realized how many questions the campers would ask! I thought I knew (almost) everything after orientation, but quickly realized I often needed to go to Campus Leaders for answers. At first I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know some things. Not only were my Campus Leaders incredibly helpful, they were also always there when I needed them. By seeking help when I was unsure about something, I was setting a great example for campers on how to seek answers themselves.

Kids Remember the Little Things

This should have been a no-brainer because I remember so many small details about the adults in my life as a child. This clicked for me at camp when a camper made a drawing for the counselors in our cabin. The drawing was of us from earlier in the summer at a Talent Show. Our campers talked about every little detail of our skit, which I had already forgotten. That made me realize the little things impact our legacy as much, if not more, than the big things.

I’m sure as I reflect on my summer throughout the fall and winter I’ll come up with even more examples of the things my campers taught me. For now, I’m thrilled I made the decision to be a counselor this summer and can’t wait to be back next year!