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One thing that I always think of when I think of camp is dance parties, the greatest dance parties in the world. There is a magic to jumping up and down while screaming out One Direction and Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus at the top of your lungs in a place where you are so comfortable in your own skin that you couldn’t care less how you sound or look or about the fact that you’re t-shirt is probably drenched in sweat.
None of that matters when the 150 other people around you are screaming just as loud and jumping just as high. None of that matters when the 150 other people around you are your favorite people in the world, people who would far prefer to dance crazy than dance cool.
Back in 2011, I wrote this about camp for Women’s Adventure Magazine:
“At these [dance] parties, a girl becomes a hero when she teases her hair and rubs dirt on her face to look like a cavewoman, when she wears mismatched sequined clothes and adds a sombrero to accent the sparkle. I have never felt more like a supermodel than the night I spent running around camp in a chicken suit. Never have more people envied me.
At camp, crazy is cool. Laughter makes anyone beautiful, and the crazier we dance together, the closer we become.”
I think as you get older at camp, all of this only becomes more important. As kids begin to grow up—faster these days than they ever did before—and face the endless school pressures of fitting in, it is things like these Thunderbird dance parties that show them just how happy they can be when they let down their guard and are being nothing but themselves.
What’s even better is that these dance parties are usually accompanied by fantastic days because they almost always occur on specialty days. A few times each summer, we hand the reigns over to a village of campers and let them plan the day. Campers get to select a theme and plan a day of meals and activities around it.
Specialty day gives campers a chance to use creativity and imagination to invent their own fun.
We have had some incredible specialty days so far this summer. At Girls Camp, the Sodbusters, our youngest village, planned Thunder the Sea, an ocean-themed day that began with an exciting row boat battle game and ended with a marvelous counselor fashion show. Each cabin was given a prop and assigned the task of dressing up their counselors in sea-themed attire. We all had so much fun watching them strut across the stage.
The Sodbusters did a great job running the day. From the moment they ran through the Homestead and Ranchero villages to wake the rest of the campers up for breakfast, their energy and enthusiasm helped make each and every activity a blast.
Boys Camp’s youngest village, Crow, told the rest of camp that their specialty day was Mustache Day, but, little did everyone else know it’d be shockingly interrupted when our assistant director, Chuckles, was kidnapped! Luckily, the boys already had their detective mustaches ready, and they spent the day searching for clues and tracking Chuckles down. The campers located him at the waterfront at the end of the day, where his captors set him free.
Then, of course, there was the 4th of July, which has become an all time favorite holiday for many of our campers and staff. Nowhere else that I have found knows how to celebrate quite like Thunderbird. No matter what country you hail from, the dance parties, talent shows, and all-camp games make it hard not to feel some good old U.S patriotism.
Over at Girls Camp, the Fourth of July is run by the Homestead village, our oldest in-camp girls. The Homesteaders planned an amazing Independence Day. In the morning, we painted our faces, dressed in red, white, and blue, feasted on waffle sticks for breakfast, and then battled it out all morning long in our annual capture the flag competition. The red team and blue team tied at the end of an energetic, fun-filled game. While no flags were captured, there were certainly a lot of laughs along the way. Later in the day we enjoyed a waterfront obstacle course, a slip ‘n slide, and other fun activities.
At Boys Camp, Independence Day is also the specialty day for the oldest campers, the Chippewa village. On the evening of July 3rd, the Boys Camp campers were assigned to either the red, white, blue, or green team. Each team came up with a chant, and they spent the morning of the 4th competing in a relay race all over camp. The race involved canoeing and fun yakking at the waterfront as well as an epic sprint to the lower ball field, where teams competed to be the first to build a fire large enough to burn a rope hanging over each fire pit. After the red team was declared the victor, the day continued with capture the flag and an all-camp swim.
On July 4th evening, Boys and Girls Camp came together for the Hootenanny, our annual co-ed talent show. The boys and girls sat on Boys Camp’s sand hill, enjoying popsicles while watching their friends perform some pretty amazing talents, from a great dance by Girls Camp’s youngest cabin, Durango, to some Rubix Cube solving by a few boys camp campers to a beautiful rendition of Vance Joy’s Riptide, sung by some talented Homestead girls. We were so proud of each and every camper who had the courage to stand up in front of Thunderbird and show off their amazing talents.
And of course, all of our specialty day meals were accompanied by some pretty amazing dance parties.
Our Sodbuster, Crow, Homestead, and Chippewa villages planned some wonderful specialty days. We cannot wait to see what the rest of the villages cook up second session!
Keep dancing, Thunderbird.
Molly “Pixel” Sprayregen
There is a place between the trees where everything feels paused, where the sounds of text message pings are replaced by the slaps of canoe paddles on glassy water, where the double tap of an Instagram ‘like’ takes a back seat to the world’s tightest hugs, and where laughter, friendship, and fun are the key ingredients to helping strong young girls and boys become proud, confident women and men.
This place is Camp Thunderbird.
I came to Thunderbird for the first time when I was nine years old. When I think back to that trembling, wide-eyed kid stepping off the bus into a sea of songs and smiles, I feel on some level she knew right away that fifteen years later, here I’d still be, twenty-four now, telling all of you how Thunderbird can change your life.
Thunderbird gives you the kinds of friendships that can only form when you live, learn, laugh, play, struggle, and succeed together. It’s a special kind of bond that grows when you learn to support one another all day every day for weeks in a row. Ask anyone who has come to Thunderbird, and I am certain they will tell you there is nothing in the world like a camp friend.
Thunderbird teaches you to set goals and push yourself farther than you ever thought you could. It teaches you resilience, to laugh off frustrating moments. It gives you the freedom to be yourself and the bravery to fail. It is where you learn that being responsible and mature doesn’t mean you can’t also be youthful and silly and free. It gives you a love for nature, the chance to climb mountains, bike miles and miles, and canoe down streams.
Most of all, Thunderbird gives you happiness, pure, unadulterated happiness.
The summer has only just begun and already we have watched the campers learn new skills, gain confidence, and, of course, have so much fun. There have been beautiful climbing trips, amazing specialty days, rockin’ dance parties, crackling campfires, and one of the most amazing northern lights displays that Thunderbird has ever seen. Laying under the stars watching bright green stardust dance across the sky is something we will never forget.
I think that in today’s screen-centered world, camp is more important than it has ever been. For four or eight weeks, our campers get to shut down their laptops, turn off their phones and just let themselves be kids. The concerns for who their top friends may be on Snapchat or how many ‘likes’ their pictures get on Facebook fade away, and in place the concerns become which colors to weave together in their next friendship bracelets, whether to spend the afternoon water skiing across the lake or playing an exciting game of tennis, and which crazy songs to scream out during meal times.
At Thunderbird we don’t care what you’re wearing or how many photos you’ve been tagged in. We care that you are smiling, that you are learning to love yourself for exactly who you are and to love others for exactly who they are, too.
Thunderbird is a refuge from the outside world, yet it also prepares you for it better than anything else. While it lets us all escape for a while, it allows us to return feeling stronger and more prepared for whatever the universe might throw our way.
The thing about camp is it doesn’t matter when you get here or how long you stay. Once Thunderbird is in your life, it is in your life forever.
To all the campers and their families who have joined us for the first time this summer, we welcome you with open arms. We are so happy to have you join our family. For those of you who have been with us before, welcome home.
We cannot believe how quickly the summer is flying by. Every summer, it is a surprise how fast it goes, but we know it only flies because of how much fun we have.
I will be blogging with updates throughout the rest of the summer, so make sure to keep checking back to find out what everyone at camp is up to!
Molly “Pixel” Sprayregen
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