In the 4-H Performing Arts Troupe, older students are good at taking care of the younger kids.
Mallory Scott, one of the Troupes’s two directors, saw evidence of that at lunch Thursday.
A girl was sitting alone at lunch, and the older students included her, Scott said.
Rob Foiles, one of the experienced campers, likes to make friends.
“At meals, I try not to sit by the same people every time. I table hop,” he said.
Vermillion native Ellen Hanson remembers her first summer as a camper with the South Dakota 4-H Performing Arts Troupe. Hanson and Foiles are both in their sixth and final years with the group.
“My mom got me to go my first year, and I was super shy,” Hanson said.
She was 13 at the time and didn’t talk to very many people. Now 18, “I can say that I'm pretty good friends with most of them.”
Fifty-nine young people are in Aberdeen this week for the 30th year of the Performing Arts Troupe. The group performed before Thursday night's Aberdeen Municipal Band concert at Melgaard Park.
For Foiles, that show is one of the best parts of the week. The students, who are based at Northern State University, walk to Melgaard because it's just a couple of blocks away, he said. They do the show and walk back. Along the way, they tell each other jokes and enjoy “being regular teenagers,” said Foiles, who graduated last month from Brookings High School.
The young people assembled in Aberdeen Sunday afternoon and will leave Saturday. Performances are at 7 tonight and 10 a.m. Saturday at the Johnson Fine Arts Center. The campers will also perform at two Aberdeen nursing homes today.
The toughest day of the week is Monday. By the end of the day, the performers had learned at least the basic steps for eight dances.
The staff makes things a little more intense at the start of the week, and the students have a little more fun as the week goes on, said Ashley Geist Cusick, a graduate of Edmunds Central and NSU. Scott and Cusick are co-directors and co-scriptwriters. Scott, a Wall native who now lives in Aberdeen, directs the music, and Cusick handles the choreography.
The show has 15 numbers. Each student is in nine of them. This year's show is called “30 Years of South Dakota 4-H Performing Arts Greatest Hits.” That show will be presented at a number of events this summer, including the Brown County Fair and the South Dakota State Fair.
Foiles, 19, now stands 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. When he took part in his first 4-H Performing Arts camp, as a 14-year-old, he was 5-3 and about 120 pounds.
His favorite part of the week will be Friday night, when many Performing Arts alumni will be seeing the show, seated in the front row.
Foiles will enjoy singing a solo in front of those alumni, who “kind of watched me grow up,” he said.
Foiles, who's bound for South Dakota State University this fall, will spend the rest of the summer riding horses. He’ll be the wrangler at a church camp at Atlantic Mountain Ranch north of Custer. Foiles describes himself as “a hard-working, honest cowboy.”
The goal of the week, Cusick said, is to put on a fun show "and to give the kids a great arts education experience.”
Scott’s objective is to give the kids a positive experience and produce “a fun show that they can travel with throughout the summer.”
The students want to “put on the best show we can,” Foiles said. They like to get a message across in a ballad, as well as get a few laughs from the audience.
Early in the week, Hanson said, the students can become frustrated. But, “by the end of the week, we've become a family,” she said.
Every year, she enjoys the Saturday show, which her family attends. Her parents and her sister will watch her perform Saturday.
Just about every year, though, she calls her family on Thursday night and says, “Don't come get me. I want to say here forever.” Hanson, who's been dancing since she was 3, will enroll this fall at Mount Marty College.
The 4-H Performing Arts Troupe is open to teenagers 13 and older. Members of this year's troupe come from 22 counties.
Of the 59 campers this year, 16 are boys.
There are nine senior campers this year. Hanson and Foiles are the only ones who've been with the troupe six years. Four of the nine are in their fifth year. Foiles is the only boy among the nine senior campers.
Rosalie Schumacher of Bowdle, one of the volunteer board members, said the group has had fewer than 59 members in the past. The key is that there are 14 to 16 “newbies” each year, and this year there are 14, she said.
If you’re interested in supporting the program, call the South Dakota 4-H Foundation at 605-688-4943.