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In a state-of-the-art DJ booth at Camp Zama’s Youth Center, a handful of energetic and creative teens spin the tunes and create the backdrop for great dances and parties.

They make up the DJ Club, a two-year-old program that teaches teens about responsibility and business and fills a needed void for quality entertainment.

“I help people have fun and enjoy themselves,” said Darrian Johnson, 13, an apprentice DJ and eighth-grader at Zama American High School.

The club has about eight teens from his school. Some, such as Johnson, are apprentices. Most are full-fledged DJs who can be hired for private functions.

“Some people think all you do is hit a button on the CD player,” said 14-year-old Eva Connors, a ninth-grader and full DJ.

DJs control the party, Connors said. They keep the vibe going, avoid interruptions and sequence songs into a resonant order.

“Otherwise, it’s like having a jukebox,” she said.

They can change the tempo of songs during dance contests and add a slew of special effect sounds.

They control disco lighting and smoke machines at the monthly dances and other events. And they’re fully responsible for many of the Youth Center’s more than 2,000 CDs.

The best reward, Connors and Johnson said, is the audience: watching their friends get into a groove and have fun.

Youth Center Assistant Director Chris McKibbin helped create the program two years ago. The center had been paying a professional DJ $150 to perform at dances.

“We thought, why are we paying so much?” McKibbin said. “We have kids with the same passion and know more about the music kids listen to.”

With a little investment in better deejay equipment and some training, the center found a way to teach a great skill and responsibility while meeting a great need.

“It’s almost like a work-force preparation program,” McKibbin said.

The teens have business cards to promote themselves, and they operate like a small business, they said. They set up and store the expensive equipment and lead dance contests, take requests and make announcements.

DJs now perform for Youth Center events, monthly dances, birthday and other community parties. This summer, Zama’s DJs provided the entertainment for a massive Kanto Plain dance for 400 teens from base high schools and local international schools.

The DJ Club isn’t competitive but they don’t accept just anyone, participants say.

An interested teen first serves as an unpaid apprentice for five gigs. The club then votes to decide if he or she can join. It’s not a popularity contest. Only dedicated student DJs make it.

“They don’t realize the commitment,” said Robert Chase, program assistant for the Teen Center. “They want to hang out with their friends” but they also “have to work hard.”

They also might have to play music they don’t necessarily enjoy if it’s what the crowd asks for.

“That’s the hardest part,” Chase said.

Managing the equipment also can be a challenge. Connors recalls one time during a Cha-Cha Slide dance contest when she hit the stop button while reaching for the tempo button. That’s a mistake she doubts she’ll make twice.

The DJ gig has inspired her, however. She never really thought about the people behind the music before.

Now, Connors said, she plans to study music in college.


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