Another year at Camp Westie has come and gone. This was our fourth year and we’re already heading towards our fifth. Someone said that our baby has graduated after four years. I said they’re about to start kindergarten.
We started this event four years ago when we were babies in the West Coast Swing world. My favorite dance style still didn’t know what an anchor step really was. I’d choreographed in it but hadn’t had those magical social dances where time disappears. We wanted to create something warm and homey as we transitioned away from ballroom. I was still recovering from leaving Bulgaria just ten months prior and deep in my first year of graduate school. We didn’t know what it would take to run an event. Turns out: it worked very, very well.
Camp Westie is my annual “hurricane of love” to quote my favorite summer movie “Elizabethtown”. It is an event where I am pushed past my limits. I see the fullness of my skills. I feel the intensity of what I lack. What does not work in my life really doesn’t work at Camp. Anything that does work, works really well. I leave with a powerful sense of who I am, where I am, and what I want life to look like. I’m ready… and also extremely tired.
Camp has a way of highlighting the priorities and revealing the leaks in the boat and lighting a fire to take care of it. For example, our couch. As we were running around Wednesday and Thursday, all I could feel was this pain in my soul where my couch sat. It’s a sad couch that belong to college students before it belonged to us. We call is the Couch of Giving Up. It doesn’t have great energy and it hurt my feelings while we were so tired and trying to get ready. After Camp, I called Interfaith Human Services. They are picking up the couch on Wednesday. Huzzah!
Camp Westie was also the first project that I got to brand. I didn’t know a damn about marketing at the time we started but each year my job has been to tell the Camp Story and every year that’s gotten clearer. Last year, we added profiles about each of our pros that highlighted the special souls who give so much to be with us and give life to our campers. I love telling those stories. This year, my interview and subsequent profile on Bonnie Subey dramatically impacted how we approached our theme of storytelling!
Another major shift this year came when I wrote a tagline for camp. During the altMBA (another post for another time), I sat down and hashed out what it is that makes Camp special and what we really offer to our campers, both old-timers and baby dancers. What is it that people get? What is it that matters to the founders so much that we keep doing this every year?
What emerged was the new tagline:
Feed your soul. Dance your heart out.
This isn’t a dance event. This is an event that wants you to walk away sustained and restored in all the deep ways. And from that place, let’s dance our hearts out!
I’m still so proud of this new language. What I love the most though is how it’s become a new way for us to evaluate camp choices. Did this meal feed souls? Did this activity help us dance our hearts out? How about the time we chose to end Camp? It’s a bit abstract but deeply value driven and so ultimately a better measuring stick than lots of other vanity metrics.
Best New Thing
I’ve made some of my dearest dance friends at Camp. I’ve also made some of my dearest friends period. I never would have become friends with Michael Rog, for example, if we weren’t running an event together every year.
This year, I wanted to have a quieter place to enjoy the people who were there. Also, I was pooped. So I invited anyone who wanted to come have tea with me on my cabin porch. About ten people sat with me in the lovely afternoon and enjoyed a pot of rooibos coconut chai. I loved it! It was the one time I felt I could hear new stories from new people (and old friends who’ve been at camp every year!).
This year at Camp, we focused on storytelling in dance. We new that story in dance isn’t about plot but about exploring the energy in music and between people. And we also knew that most people in west coast swing never get the chance to slow the creative process of a social dance down and put together something intentional like choreo. So that’s what we did!
The Question Worth asking: “Can you see what I see?”
We don’t really care about the rules. Or you being “good.”
We do care that you make us see what you are experiencing and exploring.
What’s It For:
A structured way to practice 1) the creative decision making process that happens in all dancing 2) experience the power of intentional crafting in dance 3) play with the sometimes restricted space of choreography. 4) Connect with yourself and the music and share that with an audience.
Real talk: any guesses on how long it took us to write the above? Holy cow. We really care about our content and what people get from it. We can be intentional to a fault! There were tears and raised voices and relationships threatened in the writing of the above. Also, it was Friday morning and we were trying to load the Uhaul so that didn’t help. Michael and I are making a tradition of misunderstanding each other at least once per camp! Ha! And then we discovered we were trying to say the same thing. But never fear, we’ve stayed on each other’s “Favorite Teammate” list. Carry on, Mr. Bowditch!
Our pros picked out songs for their teams. The teams then used emotional wheels to decide what emotions they wanted to express for their songs. And then, with less than two hours of time together, they put together and performed a choreography!
The final pieces were really incredible. Really, really amazing. There was so much thought and nuance in these pieces and I loved it. Everyone put so much thought and reflection into what they made.
It was a creative risk, one that I’m proud of but also know we won’t do again.
So why won’t we do Camp this way again?
Our values are 1) feeding your soul 2) letting you experience openhearted dancing. While super interesting and motivating and creative and amazing, it didn’t fit those two criteria. Especially for our poor introverts who were really ready for time alone on Saturday afternoon after the team choreography hour.
We will keep offering a thematic structure for our pros to use in their workshops however. They really ran with the idea of “intention” for both Camp Westie and for dancing and learning. Everything they did was to equip our dancers to have more intentionality! So so so good.
There are other things we’ll be changing going forward, mostly about the week of Camp.
If you aren’t at my house from Wed-Friday then you miss out on a special time where we’re up till 3am every night and boxes multiply like baby rabbits and no one can walk anywhere and at least five people at a time are finding floor spots to crash. It’s intense and focused and silly and too much for this girl right here. I’m consistently the one who taps out first when it comes to Camp things. Next year, we’ll be making adjustments so that I (and really everyone) can show up at Camp more rested and ready.
One piece of that is for the staff to arrive at Camp on Thursday rather than Friday morning. This would mean we can offer dinner on Friday night and get people to Camp earlier. In the past, we haven’t fed anyone dinner and people are rolling into camp later and later. This year, half our campers arrived after 9pm, the time we had slotted to kick off camp itself. We didn’t wrap up our opening festivities until midnight—and that was with dropping the beginner bootcamp. If our campers start arriving Friday afternoon and enjoy the day in the woods and by the creek and in the sun, then that sounds good enough for us!
Also. I need more sleep. I had to take my messy self off to my cabin Friday afternoon and again on Saturday morning to reset and sort my insides. I slept eight hours Saturday night (unheard of at a fun dance event!). I felt like I missed out on things and so wanted to be available—and I needed the rest. Like we want for our campers, sometimes you need to step away and do some necessary self care.
We don’t know what the long-term future holds for Camp Westie. What does long-term mean to us? The next five or so years. We don’t see Camp lasting another ten years for sure, at least with us at the helm. One thing we know: for the first four years, our staff was all between 25 – 30 years old. For the next four years, we’ll all be 30-35 years old. And physically we’re already feeling the difference. Camp will need to change logistically for us to keep up. Also: is Camp the sweet dream of some wild eyed kids? Maybe! It’s certainly mattered and we’ll see how it evolves. There’s still talk of someday bringing Camp to another location and how we can keep this effort of loving people going. Maybe that will mean Camp ends someday. We’ll take it one year at a time.
Today, I’m so damn grateful for this group of humans who take such good care of each other. I’m proud of our staff. I’m proud of how we do hard things and do them together. I’m proud of how we do easy things and laugh a whole lot. I’m proud of how much we believe in each other. I’m proud of the music that we carry in our hearts.