As summer approaches, Columbia’s adolescents will have a plethora of camp options to choose from. Some will attend workshops on how to improve their batting swing while others will learn to hone their crossover on the basketball court.
But for young girls between the ages of 12 and 14, CoMo Girls Rock! camp offers a haven for expressing themselves, their music and body positivity.
“The Girls Rock! camp does so much to help young girls see their self-worth and really pushes them to go outside their comfort zone,” says Amanda Rainey, the CoMo Girls Rock! co-founder.
With the help of two friends, Rainey organized the first camp in Columbia in 2013.
“It’s a complete package of empowerment,” says MU Women’s Center Coordinator Theresa Eultgen, who taught a workshop at last year’s camp. “They just get to do such great things with their bodies, brains and each other, in a supportive community.”
The basic structure of the Columbia camp is similar to the Girls Rock! camps that are now present worldwide, with camps offered in Oakland, California; Philadelphia; and Popkollo, Sweden, among other locations.
Between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from June 8 to June 12 at the Columbia Area Career Center, campers will practice with the bands and instrument they are assigned, receive music lessons from volunteers and attend workshops that range from “Feminism 101” to discussions about body positivity. Additionally, because the camp was founded on the principle of girls playing loud, rebellious rock music, they are treated to a “‘herstory’ lesson” on the history of the genre/feminist movement, Riot Grrrl. (Riot Grrrl legend Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney provided guitar lessons at the first camp in Oregon in 2007).
“There’s such a disparity in who is told that they can rock and who can be in the background,” Eultgen says. “These gender norms where women have to be pretty and sitting properly while playing something like the flute. Like, no! Get your hair messy, jump around the stage, let loose!”
On the last day of camp, each band of campers perform a set of their own material at a showcase, held at 2 p.m. June 13 at The Blue Note.
“On Monday, they’ll say, ‘Oh my god, I’m playing bass and I’ve never touched a bass,’” Rainey says. “And then by Saturday, they are rocking out in front of hundreds of strangers. It’s just so amazing to see them feel empowered and gratified by seeing what they’re capable of.”
Rainey says they get the majority of their campers through word-of-mouth advertising. The number of campers has been around 20 each year so far, but Rainey reiterated that “we have big, long-term plans to keep the camp growing.”
On top of allowing a space for young girls to participate in the arts in a way most haven’t before, the CoMo Girls Rock! camp stresses its goal of showing young girls their self-worth extends far past their appearance. A “Shout Out Wall” is available throughout the week, where girls can write positive messages of love and encouragement to each other.
“You can just tell a lot of the girls had been waiting for a place where they could say the kind of things we talk about,” Eultgen says. “They were so excited to express themselves and feel like they’re being heard. It’s just really nice to see the happiness these girls have when they can see their own greatness.”