Fully Excited to Dance

pottery glazed
water slide plunge

Saturday is a great day to dig deeper into the activities at camp. It’s the final day of the current 3-day rotation of activities, and at this point in the session, the girls are showing not only a greater interest in what’s happening in each activity area, but also more competence. For example, in the two ceramics studios, it’s been a glazing party. The girls are taking their pottery pieces and carefully painting on different colored glazed, the sculptures, hand-built and wheel-thrown vessels all receiving a coat of glaze. The pottery instructors will fire the kilns tonight, turning the dull glazes into shiny, brightly colored works of art. It will be exciting to open up the kilns tomorrow afternoon and see how all the pieces have turned out.

In the fiber arts cabin, Curosty, many projects were likewise finishing up today. The instructors were helping girls tie off their loom weaving, sew borders on needlepoint pieces, and gather the ends of knitting projects. The large wall weaving on the outside of the cabin is almost filled to the top, and later this week many hands will help embroider details on it.

During the first free swim period today before lunch, the water slide was open to blast girls down into the lake at the bottom. Swimmers were clocking laps, some girls basking in the sun while floating in a tube, while others took turns doing tricks off the diving board. The bright, sunny, warm afternoon made the lake feel really good.

After a passing thunderstorm in the mid-afternoon, which by the way brought out a different beauty of camp, we all enjoyed a picnic dinner on the hill.  The kitchen had the grill going all afternoon smoking and cooking hot dogs for everyone.  Along with homemade coleslaw, freshly cut watermelon and “blondies” for dessert, we had an amazing meal watching the sun recede toward the mountains.

summer camp dance

One of the most anticipated events of the session also happened today: the Camp Carolina Dance. Our Juniors and Middlers stayed here at Rockbrook to welcome the younger boys to our gym where our friend DJ Marcus was ready with his sound and light system to entertain everyone. With the counselors leading the way, the kids jumped and bopped to familiar pop songs as well as the well-known line dances like Cotton Eyed Joe. When things got too hot dancing, folks could take a break outside, and play gaga ball or tetherball instead. Part way through the dance we served everyone a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. They were delicious!

Meanwhile across town, our Senior girls and the Hi-Ups were showing off their moves in the Camp Carolina dining hall. With glitter on their faces, and some dressed in Hawaiian shirts, the girls brought an amazing power to the dance, I think surprising the boys a little.  This may have been because the girls outnumbered the boys, but I think these Rockbrook girls were just fully excited to dance. Jumping for two hours, stopping only briefly for a drink of water now and then, it was a sweaty and equally thrilling night.  On the ride home several girls remarked that it was “so hot in there, but also really fun,” and “way better than last year!”

Back at camp, it took everyone a little longer than usual to settle down for night, chatting about the dance, cooling off from all the activity, laughing and telling stories about the day. With days like this, that’s to be expected!

dock at camp lake

Bouncing, Laughing and Singing

girls rafting crew

When Rockbrook was awarded one of the few permits to raft the Nantahala River back in the early 1980s (still the only girls camp recognized for this), we had no idea that it would become such an important part of our adventure program. Every year since, we’ve guided our Middlers and Seniors down the river, with I’d say about 90% choosing to go. For many girls, rafting is one of the highlights of their session, and their main adventure activity, with the possible exception being day hiking trips or zip lining.

Having this permit for guiding rafting trips on the Nantahala means keeping our own fleet of boats (cool Avon and NRS whitewater rafts), and having paddles, helmets, and PFDs for everyone. We hire and train our own guides (they are on our adventure staff back at camp) and are inspected by the US Forest Service annually. All of this allows us to run trips as we like, and have the confidence that we have great folks in the boats with our campers for the trips to go smoothly.

summer camper rafting

Today was another of those great rafting days. We took two trips down the river with two different groups of girls: the first rafting before lunch and the second after our picnic of sandwiches, fruit and chips. The girls had a blast bouncing over the rapids, splashing around, singing during the more calm sections, “riding the bull” (which means sitting on the front of the boat like a hood ornament), and occasionally falling in.  The Nantahala water is shockingly, steal-your-breath, cold, so when someone falls in, the whole boat screams and springs into action.  The goal is to get the swimmer back in the boat ASAP, so once in reach, the other campers help pull the wide-eyed swimmer back in by her PFD. It’s a coordinated effort that inevitably ends with several girls sprawled in the bottom of the raft laughing hysterically. It really was a fun day on the river, as the weather cooperated (we luckily dodged most of the rain in the area) and we easily made it back to camp in time for dinner.

girl group dance

Somehow, despite the desire to keep it a secret, only half of the girls seemed surprised when it was announced that we would be having a dance tonight with Camp Carolina. We often schedule a dance at some point during each session, but we try to surprise the girls with when it will happen because it minimizes the time spent getting ready. The line for the shower can only be so long! Over the years, what it means to “get ready” for a dance has evolved away from a “nice outfit” and become more about a crazy costume. Dances are less about brushed hair and more about braids, less about make up and more about glitter. Hawaiian shirts have replaced blouses, and pajama pants and shorts are preferred over skirts.

teen group dance

This is practical too when you consider the dancing, which is mostly a simple move of jumping up and down with one hand raised high. Clustered together, the crowd jumps in unison perfectly matching the straight beat of the music. The playlist tonight was a series of familiar, danceable pop songs from recent years— “Party in the USA,” “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” and “Wobble,” for example. A few classics also made it: “Africa” by Toto, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, and “Mamma Mia” by ABBA, to name a few of the sing-a-long examples.

For about an hour and half, both dances (the younger children at Rockbrook and the older at Camp Carolina) were bouncing, laughing and singing along to the music. A little sweaty and surprised by how fast the time flew by, it took a good half an hour for the excitement of the evening to fade after the girls returned to camp and began getting ready for bed. A fun, full camp day to remember.

girl kicking dance

The Occasional Sashay

camp lake time for girls

Nothing beats hanging out at the lake. When the weather is warm and sunny, like it was today, the lake has a magnetic effect around camp, congregating campers, especially during the free swim period right before lunch. With girls swimming mermaid laps, doing tricks off the diving board, zipping down the water slide, paddling a corcl boat, floating in a tube, or just hanging out on the dock or sunbathing on one of huge rocks nearby, there’s a lot going on. The whole waterfront might have 60 or so people all enjoying the festive atmosphere during free swim. It’s a classic summer camp scene that the girls can count on being part of their day.

rockbrook camp curosty cabin
r b c letters knitted

Curosty, the historic log cabin that’s home to the fiber arts activities at Rockbrook, is responsible for a great deal of the decoration we find around camp. Campers of course love all the weaving going on— basketry, floor looms, lap looms and hoops —the knitting projects, the crochet hooking, and the cross stitching. Beautiful hats, belts, baskets, pot holders, book marks, and place mats are happily produced everyday in Curosty, as the girls develop their needlecraft and weaving skills. In addition, there are community projects to admire. Right on the door of Curosty is an example of a large woven tapestry that dozens of girls have worked on. Row-by-row, campers of all ages took turns adding different colorful strips of cloth, adding weft to a large warp on a frame. You can see another of these tapestries in the works to the right in the photo.  One of these weaving projects ended up being about 15 feet long, and now serves as a colorful cushion for the dining hall porch bench.  Many of the red rocking chairs around camp likewise have similar handmade seat cushions. Rockbrook is more comfortable and colorful thanks to Curosty.

Even though most of the older campers had guessed it, the announcement that we would be having a dance with Camp Carolina tonight raised the roof with screams of excitement. Clearly, everyone was looking forward to this traditional all-camp event. Specially chosen outfits and costumes were ready to pulled out, hair washed, braided and brushed out. Again, we organized two dances, keeping the youngest girls here at Rockbrook to welcome the smallest boys from Camp Carolina, and transporting our Seniors and Hi-Ups over there to dance with the older boys. You can see from the photos below that the mood at both dances was exuberant, effervescent with high spirits.  For the entire hour and half, there was more singing and screams of excitement than not, as conga lines and group dances formed, and favorite pop songs followed one after the other.  A short break for a homemade Rockbrook cookie didn’t slow things down one bit, either.

Tonight proved once again that these dances don’t have much to do with the boys. There’s perhaps the occasional sashay, especially, as you might expect, from the older girls, but mostly the fun comes from being silly with your friends, dressing up, and jumping around (“dancing”) to familiar songs. It seems to me, it’s the girls, not the boys, that make these dances fun.  That’s not too surprising when you consider the impressive power (energy for fun) this group of girls can generate. Very impressive, indeed!

kids at summer camp dance
teen camp dance girls

The Adventure of Rafting and Dancing

Whitewater raft filled

Rafting is always a big deal at Rockbrook, and we proved it again today as we brought another 70 people down the Nantahala River for a thrilling whitewater trip. Ever since the early 1980s when Rockbrook received one of the few rafting permits awarded organizations (We’re still the only girls camp with a Nantahala rafting permit.), our camp girls have paddled the Nantahala. Over these years, it has become THE outdoor adventure trip most girls sign up for during their camp session, and while only Middlers and Seniors can go due to a Forest Service restriction, probably 90% of these eligible girls chose to go rafting.

We took two trips down the river with two different groups. The first drove over on Monday afternoon to our outpost campsite located just a short drive east of the river’s put in. The outpost has tent platforms, a small bathhouse, dining hall, and campfire ring. After arriving and setting up their sleeping platform arrangements (who “gets to” sleep by the door), the girls enjoyed a quick dinner of quesadillas, refried beans, salsa and chips, while saving room for roasting marshmallows and making a s’more around the campfire. Wood smoke, crispy toasted sugar, and the cool air of a cloudless night sky of stars combined beautifully. As the girls finished their goodnight circle song, everyone appeared happy and content heading to bed.

The next morning a quick breakfast of bagels, cream cheese and fruit charged us up before hitting the water around 10am. With our Rockbrook adventure staff guiding the boats, the morning group enjoyed a beautiful sunny trip down the river.  The whole run lasted about two hours, which was just enough time to bump, splash and laugh through the rapids without getting too cold in the 53-degree water.

The final rapid of the trip is a Class-III drop called the Nantahala Falls. It’s quite narrow and has two sections that can make it challenging to run, so it’s guaranteed to the best rapid of the day. Click on these photos to see what I mean.

rafting splash on rapid
camp girls on rafting trip

The second trip of the day also had excellent weather as they paddled, floating and singing down the river. Rafting is a fun mix of physical activity, goofing around with friends in the boat, moments of scream-inducing fear, and plenty of shocking cold— feet-numbing cold —water. No wonder it’s popular!

dancing camp girls

Arriving back at camp in time for a picnic dinner on the hill, everyone was surprised to learn that tonight’s evening program was a camp dance with the boys of Camp Carolina. Here too, we created two groups with the Senior girls traveling by bus over to Camp Carolina, and their younger boys coming to Rockbrook to meet our Middlers and Juniors. Having two simultaneous dances makes managing about 450 children a lot easier, and more fun for both age groups. At Rockbrook, DJ Marcus kept everyone moving by playing pop songs and well-known group dancing songs. The girls happily formed conga lines, danced all over the gym, and had no trouble stopping to pose for photos with their friends and counselors. Camp Carolina also played mostly “radio hits” popular with the girls while keeping the lights low to show off their mirrored disco ball spinning near the ceiling.

I guess we could say, like rafting, there’s a bit of adventure involved in camp dances as well. Dances often require a special location (dance floor), equipment (amplified music), and clothing (the clean things). There’s a certain amount of skill, both physical and social, involved at camp dances. Also though, there’s excitement mixed in, the thrill of interacting with the opposite gender, especially for the older girls. It’s that kind of adventure that makes for memorable fun.

It’s been a very full day for these Rockbrook girls. They’ve done extremely well, enjoying themselves every step of the way.

line of dancing kids
kids camp dance

Jubilant Dancing

girl camp dance

There’s probably one special all-camp event that gets campers more excited than any other, and that’s a dance party with one of the neighboring boys camps. It’s an event campers plan for, in some cases anticipate anxiously, but definitely think of as a BIG deal. Like most of our special events at camp, it involves dressing up, music, dancing and food— aren’t those the essential ingredients for a fun party after all? —but a camp dance is somehow even better. Tonight Camp Carolina and Rockbrook took to dancing!

For years now we’ve held two dances simultaneously, dividing the children into older and younger groups, allowing the girls to feel more comfortable around boys their own age. Tonight the Senior girls and Hi-Ups loaded up our buses and vans to travel to Camp Carolina for their dance, and the youngest boys came to Rockbrook for a dance with our Middlers and Juniors.

granny costume dance

I knew to cover my ears when Chase announced the dance during lunch today, because the girls’ roaring reaction was truly deafening. The rest of the afternoon, conversations were about what to wear and when every girl (well, maybe not all of the Juniors!) would be able to take a shower to get ready. During dinner it was fun to see how the girls chose to get “dressed up.” In addition to special “nice outfits” packed especially for the dance, the older girls in particular were more inclined to wear flamboyant and silly costumes: Hawaiian shirts, traffic vests, cat t-shirts, plenty of tie dyes, and a couple of dinosaur costumes. Even this session’s camp moms Janet and Bentley dressed as old ladies! It’s almost expected; whatever you wear to a camp dance, it shouldn’t be too serious.

And that’s because the mood of the dances is high spirited and jubilant. For both the younger and the older girls, the dance means grabbing a friend, or a group of friends, and sticking together. No matter what the music, some familiar pop song from Bruno Mars for example, or some other Techno track (which for some reason is a popular genre at Camp Carolina), the dancing involves mostly jumping up and down to the beat, with only the occasional other “moves.” The exception to that are the recognized group dance songs with set choreographed dances like “The Wobble,” “The Cha Cha Slide,” and “Cotton Eyed Joe,” for example.

Camp teen dance

When the dance at Camp Carolina for the older girls and boys switched occasionally to a slow song, you could feel a little tension in the room rising. Some girls were clearly not interested in a slow dance and quickly left the dance floor or grabbed a friend, indicating they were already “out.”  A handful of brave boys and girls, though, paired up for an awkward, arms-outstretched, shuffle from side to side. It was hard to ignore this awkwardness, particularly when everyone looked so relieved when a fast song came back on.

We wrapped up the dances around 9pm, and after almost 2 hours of jumping around, the girls were sweaty, a little tired, and probably dehydrated. But they were also about as excited as you’ll ever see them. It was non-stop chatter on the bus ride home— comments about who was dancing with whom, that “boy with the weird hat,” the music selection played, how “I danced with a boy 2 years younger than me!”, and how the “whole place smelled like B.O.”  With all good things, it was another fun camp night of dancing.

girls camp dancers
teen girl dance

This Place is Bustling

wood working camper
Wood Working Bracelet

During breakfast we announced another special activity for the girls today: a visit to George Peterson’s woodworking studio for a tour and project workshop. George has offered different workshops like this to our Rockbrook girls for three years now. His wife Margaret is an Alumna, and his two daughters attend camp every summer. George is widely known for his art, his creative carving, etching, burning and painting of different species of wood, old wooden skateboards, and skis. He’s displayed his work in galleries in New York, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Atlanta, and continues to work as a professional artist out of his studio, The Circle Factory.

When the girls arrived, George first toured them around the studio pointing out several of his specialty tools, like drills, saws, torches, and the giant lathe he uses to turn logs into huge bowls. The girls were fascinated by the stacks of raw materials they saw too: slabs of wood, old skateboards, leather cords, paints and inks. There were finished pieces and works in progress displayed almost everywhere. Each girl was then able to make their own project, a leather and wood bracelet. With help from George and Margaret, the girls used a drill press, a carving tool, sandpaper and a metal “RBC” brand to shape a small chip of multicolored skateboard that they then sewed to a leather strap. There were multiple steps to the project, but the girls each had a cool, one-of-a-kind bracelet to wear proudly when they were done.

tennis camp girl
camp archery girl shooting

For all of us who stayed in camp, our morning was filled with a whole range of activities. Girls were climbing high above camp on Castle Rock, trying to “slay the dragon” (which is lingo for climbing to the top of our route called “Dragon Tail”). Others were whooping as they flew through the trees on our zip line course. A few Senior girls took on the challenge of climbing the Alpine tower blindfolded, while at the lake, Sarah and Stephanie, our kayaking instructors, were teaching a roll clinic. Archers and riflemen (girls actually!) were gleefully shooting holes in their targets. Equestriennes were gliding their horses around the arena, outdoor ring, and jump course. Girls played tennis; they shot basketball, and swam laps in the lake. Of course, there was non-stop arts and crafts too, from weaving on the loom to stringing beads and glazing pottery, making candles and blended dot painting. It’s difficult for our photographers to capture all this activity— though they do pretty well! — but you can tell, this place is bustling!

Just as lunch ended today and the girls were heading back to their cabins for rest hour, the sky began to darken and suddenly our lightning warning system sounded its alarm. A few stragglers took off running, and about 3 minutes later we all jumped when a loud crack of a lightning struck nearby, not so close that we could tell where it hit exactly, but close enough to be frightening. Fortunately, everyone was safely inside, but then as the storm built overhead, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped 15 degrees, and a hard rain began to fall. A moment later, it was hailing pea-sized hail! For about 5 minutes, that storm passed by and put on quite a show. Several girls told me later that this was the first time they had ever seen hail.

The main event of the evening was something many of the girls, particularly the Senior campers, anticipate and look forward to every summer: a dance with Camp Carolina. This was a chance to get cleaned up a bit (find that hairbrush), pull out a special outfit, costume, or glittery makeup, but mostly to enjoy jumping around with friends to favorite pop songs.

camp dance girls
girls camp dance

With both camps involved, there are too many children to hold a single dance for everyone, so we held two again: one dance at Rockbrook for the younger boys and girls, and another at Camp Carolina for the older ones. For about and hour and a half, both dances kept everyone moving, pausing now and then for a photo or a water break. Everyone was hot and sweaty by the end of it all, but the girls had a great time dancing together and singing along to the songs. Oh, and there were boys there too, though that didn’t seem to matter much. It was a fun, classic way to spend an evening at camp.

camp dance crowd

What’s Familiar Inspires

Zipline Course Kid

Ordinarily after the first week of a camp session there’s a subtle change. Like in a song when the key slides up a half step, there’s a modulation of the feeling, a change that’s both an elaboration and a settling. Life at camp begins to take on more energy and feel more comfortable at the same time, and today I really noticed it. By now the girls have rotated through different activities and visited most every area of the camp. They’ve met almost all of the counselors and activity instructors. They’ve learned the rhythm of our daily schedule, looking forward to the activity time, but also the slots of free time, meals and snack breaks. Most importantly, they grown more comfortable with all of the other campers, getting to know them through the constant shared experience of camp life. Our days now are more content by virtue of mutual familiarity (like a family) with everything and everyone living here together at Rockbrook.

This familiarity, which can also be understood as a strengthening of our community, ironically leads to new experiences too. Hearing stories from friends inspires you give a new camp activity a try. Fly through the air on the zip line! Noticing a shady rock by the creek inspires you to sit and relax there before lunch one day. Learning the camp songs inspires you to sing them even louder in the dining hall. The lake feels more refreshing than cold, “sprickets” (camel crickets) become more like friendly attendants than intruders, the sounds of the forest at night more soothing than unnerving. With a growing feeling of safety and relaxation, the girls also let more of their true selves shine through. Such a relief, that openness feels great. You can just see it on their faces all over camp, laughing and playing so easily, greeting everyone cheerfully, and growing closer to each other as a result.  That’s right; the deepest bonds of friendship are forming now at camp, and it’s very cool to see.

Kayaking Skit

Saturday is a day of regular camp activities, but before lunch we hold an assembly on the hill (under the old walnut tree). It’s a chance for camp bonding, announcements, recognizing the cabins with the inspection scores, and counselor skits. The sports and games instructors demonstrated, hilariously, how to play volleyball when duct taped together. The kayakers paddled frantically away from a tsunami (bucket of water!), and the yoga instructor entertained everyone by simply reciting several yoga-related puns. It was all good silly fun to remind the girls about the activity options available to them. Each age group cheered and sang their line songs, and the whole camp exploded when when we sang “Rockbrook Camp Forever.”

Happy Ice Cream Campers

The first big surprise of the day happened right after lunch, and to everyone’s delight it was “Biltmore Train.” Before it was the tourist destination it is today, the Biltmore Estate ran a commercial dairy selling milk and ice cream locally, and making deliveries of their dairy in a truck decorated with a train motif (The Vanderbilt family was well known in the railroad business). It soon became a tradition for Rockbrook girls to enjoy Biltmore ice cream, with the girls meeting the truck/train as it pulled into camp. The Biltmore dairy has since closed (It has a more tourist friendly winery now.), but we celebrate the memory by holding an an all-you-can-eat ice cream party once per session. Today we lined up 6 giant tubs of ice cream on tables under the hemlock trees, and our brave counselors wore our their arms hand dipping cone after cone for the campers. Once receiving their cone, the girls raced to get back in line (to the end of the “train”) for another. Under the warm sunny afternoon sky, we all enjoyed a high-spirited, sugar-charged treat.

The second surprise was tonight’s evening program, a disco-themed all-girl dance. Naturally, we all had a great time dressing up for the dance— shiny dresses, tie dye t-shirts, rounds glasses, and head bands setting the tone. Marcus, DJ Dog, set up his lights and sound system in the gym to keep everyone dancing, and we served lemonade and cookies while girls played outside blowing bubbles and making sand art necklaces. For a couple of hours it was non-stop disco, group dances to familiar pop songs, and zipping around the gym to the music. All girls, all fun, all good.

Hippy Disco Girls

Fantastic Success

Lower Green Kayaking
Kayak Seal Launch
Kayak Camp Girls

First a Kayak Camp update. As you know, kayaking has really caught on here at Rockbrook, and in response to that growing interest, we’ve begun offering 2 special 1-week camp sessions devoted entirely to whitewater kayaking. We’ve called these sessions “Rockbrook Rapids.” Today, the first of those sessions ended and we began to hear some of the exciting stories of how their many river trips went during the last week. The girls ran a section of whitewater every day, building skills and confidence on the water as they progressed through class I, II, and some class III whitewater. On two occasions, the crew camped near their river.  They ran the Lower Green, the Tuckaseegee, the Nantahala, the Chattooga (2 days), and the Upper Green rivers. This afternoon when the van pulled into camp after their last trip, the girls looked pretty tired and maybe a little grubby, but I’ve never seen a group more proud and satisfied. Unloading their gear, the girls happily handled the work, knew exactly what to do, and chatted effortlessly. It was neat to see that kind of camaraderie after just one week of shared outdoor adventure experience. The staff and the campers alike said the whole week was awesome. Check out the photos above (Click them to view a larger version) and you can see a little of the fun (Others are online in the photo gallery). One girl told me, “I’m definitely signing up for this again!” A fantastic success for the first kayak camp of the summer!

Camp Kid on Microphone
Wheel Spin Fun Camp
Pie Camp Counselor

A great moment happened today when Sophia won a chance to spin the wheel in the dining hall. When it was clear she was the winner, Chase asked her where she hoped her spin would land. What prize was she hoping to win? Without hesitating, Sophia yelled “Pie Your Counselor” into the microphone. It’s always very exciting to spin the wheel, but when it lands on what the girl spinning hopes for, it’s so marvelous the whole dining hall erupts. And as you can see in the photo above, “Pie Your Counselor” is exactly what Sophia got! The kitchen helped out right away, whipping up two chocolate pudding pies for the occasion, so right after lunch a crowd gathered on the hill to watch the mess unfold. Everyone laughed and cheered as the counselors proved they could take a pie in the face.  It’s not often you have two willing victims for this kind of pie massacre, so we all had a great time watching.

After Pie in Face

Tonight we also had our first dance of the summer with Camp Carolina. We again held two dances, one at each camp with the older girls traveling over to dance in the CCB dining hall, and their younger boys coming to Rockbrook to dance in our gym. You might think these dances with boys are awkward since they contrast so completely with the all-girl world of Rockbrook. In reality though, we do what we can to keep everything lighthearted and silly. The counselors dress up in crazy costumes, and are quick to encourage group dances rather than pairs. Sure, the older girls spend a good deal of time on shall we say “hair care,” but for them too, what’s fun is the loud music, wild lighting, bouncy dancing and overall exuberant tone. Of course, being their with so many friends is what really makes these dances great.  But that true for everything at camp!

Girls Summer Camp Dance