I had the privilege of interviewing Ingrid Dahl, founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, New York. Dahl is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Youth Media Reporter, a program officer of youth media at the Academy for Educational Development, and a musician in the bands RadPony! and BoySkout. She told me about her inspiration to start the camp and the effect it has on girls.
As a teenager, Ingrid Dahl noticed that there was a lack of female performers at hardcore punk rock shows. Only later did she learn about and become inspired by the riot grrrl movement. While playing in several bands in her late teens and early twenties, Dahl was forced to confront sexism from male friends and audience members. She came to learn that she could transcend the stereotype of the sexualized female musician and tour with her band in the way male musicians had been accustomed.
In 2001, Dahl visited the Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon as part of a graduate course at Rutgers University. The Portland camp was the first of its kind in the United States. Dahl’s experience in Portland inspired her to become a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn.
About half of the campers at Willie Mae receive scholarships or are exempt from paying fees. Many come from low-income communities or homes that refuse to accept their sexual preferences. There are two one-week sessions of the camp each summer. Enrollment at the camp runs between 160 and 200 girls, with a long waiting list.
Campers vary in age and level of musical expertise. Band managers and coaches help the girls to create a song which they perform at a large music venue at the end of their week at camp. Along with instrument class and band practice, campers attend workshops about the music industry and issues such as media literacy and sexism. Most girls are very intimidated when they arrive at camp at the beginning of the week. By Wednesday, there is a major transformation in their attitude, and by Friday, they are confident and ready to rock.
This type of environment is important for girls because it teaches them to express themselves while collaborating with others. The camp boosts girls’ confidence, which ultimately helps them at home, in school, and into adolescence and adulthood.