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Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls – Q

Could your daughter benefit from being told yes for a whole week? Such is the m.o. of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, according to co-founder Hanna Fox (who in her spare time is a lawyer, mother and member of the on-hiatus Brooklyn indie band Babe the Blue Ox). 

A spin-off of a Portland program that started in 1999, the NYC-based day camp started in 2004 and has recently expanded to accept 150 students each summer. The girls are given lessons in music, performance and self-defense, among other things. Volunteer mentors have included the likes of Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna. The week culminates in a performance by each band (some band names from years past: Smokestorm, Hellish Relish and The Pink Kitties) in front of a 700-strong crowd.

Babble spoke with Fox as she prepared for the deluge of applications for campers and volunteers (info available here). You have until May 21st. – Ada Calhoun

Why teach girls music?

Music is the material that we use, but it’s not really the point. It’s an empowering and mentoring tool. They start out Monday morning. Some know how to play, some don’t. Right away we get them into bands and writing songs. And by Saturday, they’re performing for 700 people. There’s no time for them to be blocked.

What do the girls write about?

In our songwriting workshops, we encourage them to write about stuff that they know. So they write a lot about friends. We also have the girls write these zines. This one little girl who was eight wrote: “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar. My dad plays, but I was always too afraid to ask him to teach me. And now I do it.” These girls really come from a variety of backgrounds – every part of the economic spectrum.

Right. How does the scholarship program work?

Full fare is $500, which is really low for what they get. Our model is that one-third of the students pay full; one-third get partial scholarships; one-third get full scholarships.

In the girls’ performance style, do you see the typical pre-teen angst?

It runs the gamut. Check out the video of the Pink Slips. To me, that just sounded excited. Each camp session, there’s a group or two that write the tortured songs. Everybody has to go through writing over-laden stuff.

A lot of the kids, especially the ones who don’t know a lot about playing, will spend all this time arguing about things like, “I don’t want to sound like Kelly Clarkson!” And her bandmate will say, “I do want to sound like Kelly Clarkson!” Of course, they’re never going to sound like Kelly Clarkson. They’re going to sound like [the English art-punk band] Wire. Because they still don’t know how to play. Which is a gift, because it means they’re so simple and focused. After they learn, they’re never going to play such cool grooves until they’re a million.

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