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A Local Music Camp With a Twist

How Girls Rock Denver fortifies young women's skills in music and in life.

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Learning to play and perform music can be an enriching experience for anyone who tries it. For teenage girls it can be an empowering one, too.

That’s the philosophy behind Girls Rock Denver, a weeklong summer camp for 8-18-year-old girls that teaches young women the ins and outs of singing or playing instruments, along with plenty of life lessons.

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The Denver organization is one of more than 50 Girls Rock camps worldwide that are as far flung as Iceland, Peru, and Japan. The local version is held at the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) in mid-July. Unfortunately, this year’s camp is already sold out, but the organization will be accepting volunteer applications through the end of May. (Go here to find out how you can get the jump on next year’s camp.)

For a fee of $315, with financial aid options for lower-income applicants, Girls Rock provides instruments and instruction in performance, songwriting, and related topics. (Campers need not have any prior musical experience.) The classes stretch far beyond music theory and include the history and activism of women in music, zine-making (creating online publications), and other topics, including discussions about female body image. “The camp is a lot less about musical proficiency than about helping girls find and enrich their self esteem,” says Monique Bourdage, founder and co-director of Girls Rock Denver who is also a member of the women’s studies department at the University of Michigan. “It’s more about empowering them to make decisions and develop the confidence to do what they want in life.”

This is why much of the instruction involves writing and performing original songs rather than just doing covers. “At other rock camps, music is the end goal,” says co-director Jordan Beyer. “For us music is the way in to giving these girls space they may not have anywhere else to talk about the things they’re going through and what they’re feeling.” Adds Bourdage: “A lot of these kids come from difficult backgrounds, so it’s fulfilling to see their personalities come through in their songs, which can sometimes be really dark.”

Pushing boundaries remains a core principle for Girls Rock, and it’s reinforced by the camp’s variety of volunteer counselors and instructors. (The Denver group is formalizing a mentor program that will train experienced campers on how to tutor the younger ones.) “We usually see our older campers teaching the lessons and giving everyone a voice, which is the coolest thing in the world,” Bourdage says. “We want to provide a wide range of female role models for girls who might not feel like they have many out there.”

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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