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North Neighborhoods
Local teen enjoys trip to Britney Spears performing arts camp

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

By Cooper Munroe

Ross teen Kylie Flanhofer didn't think it could get any better than meeting Britney Spears on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in January.

But it did.

Last week, Flanhofer, 16, returned from 10 days at the Britney Spears Camp for the Performing Arts in Cape Cod, Mass., where she not only danced and sang for her idol but also got to spend time hanging out with Spears onstage.

"I asked her if she remembered me, and she said she did," said Flanhofer, a junior at North Hills Senior High School.

Her parents, Bob and Ellen Flanhofer, traveled to Cape Cod to see the final, public performance the campers had prepared for their families and for Spears.

"This was one journey that was meant to be hers," said Ellen Flanhofer, "but it just came right out of the blue."

Four years ago, Kylie Flanhofer, a self-described Britney Spears "fanatic in a good way," sent an e-mail to Winfrey about how her biggest dream was to meet Spears.

According to a spokeswoman for "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the e-mail so touched the producers that they saved it. When Spears was scheduled to appear on Winfrey's show, the producers remembered Flanhofer and wanted to do something special: a surprise on-air meeting between Flanhofer and Spears. On Jan. 23, Flanhofer was flown to Chicago, where Winfrey's show is taped, and brought to Harpo Studios under the pretense of appearing in a teen fashion show. When Spears walked onto the set, Flanhofer burst into tears.

"Meeting her and seeing how, like, nice she really was makes me an even bigger fan," Flanhofer said. "But it was shocking."

But Flanhofer was in for another shock.

"So, Kylie," Winfrey said on the show, "we hear you love to sing and dance and aspire to be a performer one day." Winfrey also said on the show that she knew Flanhofer's parents could not afford dancing and singing lessons. "So," Winfrey continued, "Britney is sending you to her camp this summer."

Winfrey pitched in by covering all of Flanhofer's travel expenses, including plane tickets and limousines. "The 'Oprah' people have been so great," Ellen Flanhofer said. "When Kylie got back, they called and wanted to know how camp was and wanted to make sure she got home safe."

The camp, held Aug. 17-26, is in its third year. Each summer, it accepts about 130 performing arts students ages 11 to 15, primarily from New York, New England and Washington, D.C. Accomplished artists, many of whom work with Spears professionally, train the campers in everything from hip-hop dancing to blues vocals to juggling. The campers are, for the most part, recruited through performing arts schools and nonprofit programs. Spears covers 100 percent of the costs for each camper.

"Britney started this camp because she really understands the situation a lot of these kids are in," said Nina Biggar, executive director of the Britney Spears Foundation. "These kids have a love of the performing arts, an aptitude for the performing arts. Their parents do what they can. Just like Britney's parents, who did everything they could to help her, but they didn't have the resources for programs like performing arts camp," Biggar said.

Hip-hop dancing was by far Flanhofer's favorite class. "The teacher told me I was one of the best, that I worked really hard," she said. Flanhofer thinks she would like to be a hip-hop dancer some day.

"The camp taught the kids to follow their dreams, and if they work hard, they can achieve them," Ellen Flanhofer said.

Ellen Flanhofer was impressed with the strong bond her daughter formed with the other campers. "The phone started ringing the minute Kylie got home," she said.

Because the kids became so close, Spears is setting up a password-protected chat room on the Web for campers and counselors.

"Thank goodness, it will save us so much in phone bills," Ellen Flanhofer said.

In the fall, Flanhofer will be able to relive her summer experience when MTV Networks airs a documentary about the camp, for which she was interviewed. Flanhofer has applied to return next summer as a counselor in training.

Cooper Munroe is a free-lance writer.

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