Kat Darling will never forget her first year as a coach at Girls Rock! DSM. She was walking down a hallway and heard screaming coming from inside a room where a practice session was taking place. She soon discovered it was coming from her then ten-year-old daughter, Abileen Darling.
“I just decided to scream the lyrics to a song, really loudly,” says Abileen. “Everybody in the room was laughing.”
Her mother calls it a “bold experiment.”
“Nothing really surprises me at Girls Rock!” says Kat. “The creativity of these girls just explodes.”
Girls Rock! DSM was founded in 2013 with the goal of empowering young girls through music, educational workshops and performance opportunities. The organization holds two, two-week long camps during the summertime. The camps attract around 80 attendees, and at the end of the two weeks, they hold a showcase, which has been at Wooly’s in recent years.
“We have folks that come in not knowing anything about instruments or music,” says Sara Routh, director of programming for Girls Rock! DSM. “By the end of those two weeks, they learn their instrument of choice. They’ve formed a band, and they write an original tune which is then recorded.”
Routh says just like any summer camp, kids come not knowing anybody and then leave having made new friends and having learned a lot.
“It’s a really empowering experience,” says Darling. “It grows these girls musically so much, and it creates a safe space to share and be yourself.”
There are over 100 local Girls Rock organizations worldwide, on six of the world’s seven continents. In addition to Girls Rock DSM, there is a chapter in Iowa City.
Every year, Girls Rock Camp Alliance, the organization that connects all the Girls Rock! programs, holds an international conference where local organizations meet. In recent years, the conference has been held in Elmer, New Jersey.
The 2020 conference is coming to Iowa at the request of the Des Moines Girls Rock! chapter.
”It’s an often overlooked city in the Midwest that we’re really excited about visiting,” says Savhanna Wilson, co-chair of the communications committee for Camp Alliance. “The arts and culture community in Des Moines is really supportive, and the city itself is really eclectic and interesting. It has a lot to offer in terms of community organizations that work in solidarity with one another.”
The Girls Rock Camp Alliance 2020 conference will be held April 23-26 at Camp Sunnyside in Des Moines.
Girls Rock Des Moines will announce dates for their 2020 camps soon. In the meantime, they are accepting donations for used instruments and musical equipment.
While the work that Girls Rock does is important, the program’s leaders understand the importance of keeping it fun.
“We think the work we do is really joyful and full of love,” Wilson says about the program. “While it’s political and while it’s critical of the systems of oppression we experience, we do the work that we do with a lot of joy, and we believe that joy is revolutionary.”