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Alyssa Best Headshot

"Girls Rock" Theme Rings in the New School Year

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As a child, I loved the month of August--not for the waning weeks of summer vacation--but because it meant the start of a new school year was just around the corner. By the beginning of the month, I had already picked out my first day of school outfit. I was also eager to resume my guitar lessons in the fall, which made me feel creative and confident. This year, I've noticed a trend among back-to-school advertisements directed to young girls: become a rock star.

But not just any rock star, the pop star du jour: Miley Cyrus. The 15 year-old daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus and star of the hit Disney show, "Hannah Montana," has a devoted following of pre-teens and teens alike. The merchandise surrounding her popularity is glitzy and glamorous: gold lettering, sparkles, and beaded prints. From T-shirts to shorts to backpacks, girls will be well-equipped to start school looking like a rock star in Hannah Montana fashion. But will they be ready to rock out?

Wal-Mart is selling Hannah Montana canvas guitar sling bags and battery-operated guitars and microphone headsets. Not actual acoustic or electric guitars inspired by the show, but guitar-shaped accessories and toys. If we really want our young girls to learn and play music, let's trade in all of the commercialized stuff and put real instruments in their hands.

Thankfully, that's exactly what rock camps for girls are doing throughout the country and the world.

The first Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls started in 2001 in Portland, Oregon to build "girls self-esteem through music creation and performance. Providing workshops and technical training, [they] create leadership opportunities, cultivate a supportive community of peers and mentors, and encourage social change and the development of life skills."

Working with girls ages eight to 18, the camp was created to address the problem that women are underrepresented in the music industry and in leadership roles. Girls need to know that playing music can be a true means of expression, not just an avenue for looking "cute."

Since the inception of the Portland-based camp, other summer camps have popped up around the U.S. in places like Philadelphia, Austin, Oakland, and Atlanta and globally in countries like England, Sweden, and Canada.

The summer camp experience looks something like this: the girls form bands, work with a coach, learn how to play instruments, attend workshops on gender and identity, songwriting, and band merchandise, create a song, and come together at the end of camp to play a showcase concert.

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending the showcase concerts of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, NY and the Girls Rock! DC camp in Washington, DC. Watching the girls get onstage and play beautiful and loud music with their bands produced so many emotions: I felt proud, overwhelmed, excited, and teary-eyed to witness a radical act of these girls' self-confidence and empowerment. They looked assertive, in control, and ready to lead.

Until there's a rock camp for girls in every town, we have to adopt a grassroots strategy of inspiring the girls in our lives to stand up, speak out, and make some noise.

I was recently hanging out with a 6-year old girl and noticed her pink guitar earrings. I complimented her on the earrings and she responded that they're from Hannah Montana.

"Do you play the guitar?" I asked.

She responded, "I like to make beats," and proceeded to make drum beats and hand claps.

I danced to her music and told her that I play the guitar, subtly letting her know that real women--in addition to pop stars like Miley Cyrus--play instruments and make music.

Hopefully, the influence of the pop idol and a real life mentor will inspire her--and girls everywhere-- to pick up drum sticks or the guitar, and outfitted with matching earrings, they will be truly ready to rock out in the new school year.

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