What Our First Ever Feminist Summer Camp Was Like

Our first ever Compact Camp was peak grown ass women

Remember in August when we threw our first ever feminist summer camp for a hundred women in the redwoods? Well, we didn’t want that magic to stay in the mountains, so we are thrilled to be partnering with Squarespace on the first of our Compact Summer Camp recap posts. This month and next month we’ll be highlighting some of the people who contributed to making The Compact happen, and bringing some of the summer camp goodness to your computer. If you’re looking to start your next project, Squarespace is our favorite platform to build with, thanks to their fully customizable designer templates, their super simple domain finder, and intuitive software that lets you customize your website with the click of a button (take it from a bunch of non web designers who built The Compact’s website in exactly one week while watching TV on the couch). Thank you Squarespace for allowing us to share The Compact with APW (and for allowing us to build The Compact’s excellent website with ease). 

What happens when one hundred feminist women take over a summer camp for a weekend? What happens when you take one hundred amazing women, strip them of their cell service, their responsibilities, and their defensiveness? What happens when you give one hundred feminists space to open their hearts, but no goals to achieve? What happens when you take the idea of an all-women’s conference, but take away the conference part… so it’s just three days for women to do whatever the hell they want?

What happens is The Compact Camp.

Making Space for Women

When I founded APW in 2008, building all-women spaces online was still a new phenomenon. It felt exciting and new to be carving out a space just for us that was virtual—that we could visit anytime we wanted. (See, me: stuck at a terrible office job, in desperate need of virtual community to help get me through a huge life transition.) But 2018 is very different. Between Facebook, Instagram, blogs, our phones, and on and on and on, we spend so much time in virtual community that we’ve almost forgotten what real life community feels like. You know, the kind where you can have a long conversation with lots of nuance (without getting in a huge fight over that one word someone used, because you don’t have the context of why and how they used it). Where you can reach over and give someone a hug. Where you can make a friend like you used to when you had fewer responsibilities. Where you can put down your phone and just talk to people. So after a decade of running APW—aka, an all-female online space where people come for the weddings and stay for the community—I was ready to do something a little different.

And thus The Compact Summer Camp was born.

Getting the right women and non-binary folks was, for us, the easy part. Y’all hang out with us every day on APW, and we’re surrounded by amazing women in our professional lives as well. So our original plan was let’s-start-this-small-and-just-have-fifty-people, but that quickly morphed to one hundred women (weirdly, exactly one hundred), trusting us pretty blindly with three days of our lives. We didn’t have pictures of past camps, or a list of activities or anything—just a wild idea and a whole lot of energy.

Meet Our Camp Designer Jess

But after years of swimming in glitter for APW, we still wanted it to look super pretty. (Femmes are Femmes, no matter where you put us.) So we tasked our friend Jess at Sentimental Fools with making the woods look… you know… glittery. Without glitter. Or hurting nature, or anything like that.

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We met Jess at Alt Summit earlier this year, when she blew up my Instagram DMs about the Cardi B. quote I had put in my keynote deck. I literally had no idea who she was till we ran into her at Alt Summit earlier this year while standing in line at the buffet for an ’80s dance party. Besides Maddie, she was the only person at the party who had taken the ’80s theme to a Dynasty place, so we figured she was our people. But when she not only broke it down to Cardi B. on the dance floor (as predicted by those DMs), but also knew the full choreography to TLC’s “Waterfalls,” we were like, “Oh she’s our girl.”

A computer monitor showing a bio page for Jess Rutherford on the Sentimental Fools Squarespace Website

But barring her moves on the dance floor, we really had no clear idea of what Jess did, other than she mentioned in passing how she had volunteered to blow up balloons for the massive installation at the party we were all attending. So we went home and pulled up her Squarespace business site and lo and behold, it turns out she is a wedding designer. The universe provides, y’all. Not just any wedding designer, but from the sheer quantity of balloons in her about page, the kind who understands our design motto: go big or go really big. We immediately resolved to find a way to work with Jess, so if that is not a lesson in creating your online space so that you have it at the ready when the right people meet you, I don’t know what is (and maybe just a small bit of validation for that random choreography you learned in your teens).

And oh, the stuff Jess built us. It included (but was not limited to) balloons, Chasing Paper wallpaper sunbursts, fringe, MinniDip pool floatie installations, and of course, amethyst sculptures made of pool noodles:

A woman holding a brightly colored ballon installation among the redwoods at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA A sunset-inspired large paper installation on a wood deck at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA A colorful fringe wall installation at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA a sparkly pool floaty and colorful ballon installation at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAJess Rutherford resting after getting down to business designing camp near an amethyst crystal pool noodle sculpture in a tree at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Summer Camp Magic

But we knew that glitter (metaphorical or otherwise) was not enough to make camp special. Making a great camp with great people really came down to a great itinerary. That meant that I spent months emailing all of the people I most admired, asking them if they’d like to come teach in the redwoods. But I didn’t want to teach about careers, or social media, or personal branding, or networking, or any of the things that usually fall under the umbrella of personal development. I wanted them to teach the thing that really lit them up inside. Like amazing dance choreography, or how to make friendship bracelets, or how to create a journal all about yourself.

And as it turns out, when you get amazing women in one place for a long weekend, magic happens. This is what The Compact looked like.

Women getting ready to check in and greet campers at a check-in table in front of a yurt at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

You know that feeling right before you go into an interview? When you panic ever so slightly that maybe you don’t know anything at all? Well, after twenty-four straight hours of nonstop setup, your APW/Compact team was ready to meet the one hundred badass women who’d trusted us to take care of them for a whole weekend. Translation: we were a little bit terrified.

Campers, off the bus and hiking up the hill to check in at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Then our campers started arriving, straight from an excursion where the school bus they were supposed to be on, had been… stolen. By the driver. That experience created an instantaneous bonding, and they were here and ready to go. (And obviously, more than a little terrified in their own right.)

A woman in front of the sunrise installation on the wood deck laughing and talking to a large group of women among the redwoods at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We settled in with dinner and orientation (aka the rules) before campers headed off to…

a woman in a pink tee shirt zip lining, with a pink bandana waving from her pocket at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA woman with long braids wearing a babes in the woods tee shirt and zip lining harness and helmet, smiling and throwing peace signs amid the redwoods at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA woman at peace, smiling as she ziplines at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

The beloved twilight zip line. While most of us probably don’t look as serene while zip lining as Nicole does above, I hear that zip line does kind of feel that magical… if you’re not a person that hates roller coasters. (Translation: Everyone loved it; I hated it.)

a woman smiling, holding a guitar on a bench among a group of women on benches at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

For folks that didn’t want to fly through the air on a rope (me), we had a sing-a-long workshop led by longtime APW reader and commenter Christina (who you may know as Christina McPants). We sang old school Girl Scout standards, Fugees, and a tiny bit of Indigo Girls thrown in for good measure.

A woman in flowing robes, holding a wand, in front of the sunrise installation on a wood deck, with a sign language interpreter sitting nearby at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen, sitting on benches in the evening, with their eyes closed, centering themselves at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We wanted camp to start on a really powerful note. So we kicked things off with a ritual we’ve practiced in the office when we need a motivational kick in the ass. First, we invited our Camp Witch Leah to lead us in a centering meditation. Then we identified some of the areas in our lives where we haven’t been particularly kind to ourselves. We took that, and figured out what we wanted or needed more of, used that to figure out and write down our wildest dreams and…

a woman, throwing a piece of paper into the fire as other women look on at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

… set them aflame. Writing down your intentions and burning them is powerful. Doing it with a group of one hundred women is wild and amazing.

women roasting marshmallows over a bonfire at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We made s’mores over the flames of our wishes (because is it even camp without them?). And then it was lights out.

Cyndie Spiegel, wearing a pineapple skirt, standing in front of a colorful fringe installation, holding a microphone during her keynote at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Then dawn broke, and we were ready to surprise campers with a force of nature: Cyndie Spiegel. Back in February, Maddie and I were at Alt Summit, and we popped into a talk that Cyndie was giving on the subject of asking for what you want. It ended up being one of the most powerful keynote speeches we’ve seen in… a lot of keynote speeches, and we asked if she’d be willing to give a version of it at camp. Because women aren’t exactly encouraged to advocate for themselves in the real world, we wanted to start camp by undoing some of that training.

A large group of women, many raising their hands, during the keynote by Cyndie Spiegel at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA A close up of a hand practicing watercolor techniques at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

With so much of the current DIY movement being about how much you can outdo the thing you saw on Pinterest, we wanted the crafting component of camp to be about enjoying yourself, learning something new, and not worrying too much about the finished product. And no surprise, our craft cabin was hopping all weekend.

Women watercoloring in a wood-paneled roomat the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We practiced watercolors with Elise, maker of my new favorite (and startlingly accurate) illustration.

A woman bedazzling a Babes in the Woods tote bag at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen bedazzling in a wood-paneled room at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And bedazzled, per request of Maddie (it’s surprisingly therapeutic).

Eve Sturges presenting how to vision board in a brightly lit room, as a sign language interpreter signs nearby at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA woman tearing out magazine images to use for her vision board at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen vision boarding at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA woman flipping through a book during a journaling workshop let by Rachel Wilkerson at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We had a whole other lodge that was devoted to vision boarding, dot journaling, and a special workshop called The Three Queens (with crowns). AKA a lot of self-actualization, mixed with collage.

women lined up with bows and arrows for archery at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA A woman preparing her arrow for archery at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And we weren’t going to do camp without archery, which is only the single best way to let out your aggression at the patriarchy.

Women lined up to get burgers and hot dogs from a smokey grill stand in a clearing among the redwoods at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

On the first day we were lucky enough to have an amazing barbecue lunch, right before…

Women in a pool with lots of glittery beach balls being tossed in the air at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Our pool party (which we got to have both days. I have no regrets). At one point during our pool party, someone turned to me and said that it was like being in a commercial for women, which was a hundred percent accurate. Women when left alone! We’re like this:

A woman in a striped swim suit smiling and lounging on a colorful towel at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA woman tossing a large round floaty that reads Sink or Swim at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA woman sitting poolside, laughing, holding a glittery beach ball at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA group of women both in and out of the pool living their best lives at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAA group of women with curly hair sitting at the edge of a pool with their feet in the water, laughing, touching their curly hair. Colorful striped towels hang behind them at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen standing in swimsuits by the pool, shaking it out at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Once we got out of the pool, Monique taught a workshop on moving past fear…

Monique Malcom stands on stage leading her workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Where people laughed, cried, and committed to doing huge things (like writing books).

Women talking and listening on benches during Monique Malcom's workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

I knew that if I was going to throw a summer camp, there was going to be dancing, because dancing is the place where my purest soul resides.

Women dancing during a dance workshop with Nicole Gervacio at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

I asked Nicole, one of my very favorite Bay Area dance teachers, if she’d be willing to come to the redwoods and teach a few workshops. She was game (and she brought her sister).

Women dancing during a dance workshop with Nicole Gervacio at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

On the first day she taught a flowing open dance class, and told people to move their bodies the way they wanted, even if it made no sense.

Women lounging on sleeping bags during movie night at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We ended the night strong with movie night, and the kind of laid-back slumber party vibe that most of us haven’t experienced in years.

Women dancing during a dance workshop with Nicole Gervacio at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We watched the so underrated it’s basically forgotten movie Now And Then, which has never been released digitally, meaning that it’s functionally disappeared. We ordered it on Amazon, brought a DVD player, and cried watching a pack of girls explore how their girlhood gave way to their adulthood and the ways they needed to find themselves again. (The next week R29 featured it as a movie that the critics got wrong, making us eerily on the zeitgeist.)

Jay Pryor on stage for their keynote talk at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Day two dawned with my amazing gender nonconforming coach Jay Pryor (aka, no, we did not have a cis-man teaching at camp). Jay dove into their life story of trauma, queerness, life as a woman, transgender man, and most recently a nonbinary human, and translated that into their own powerful brand of treating yourself kindly and harnessing your power.

Women listening intently during Jay Pryor's workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA Women giving a standing ovation following Jay Pryor's workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

No surprise, Jay’s talk ended with a standing ovation, and some lives changed. (No exaggeration.)

Women doing yoga during Chloe Jackman's workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Of course, after some life changing, you need to get into your body, so our friend Chloe lead a rousing class of Buti Yoga, which is about what it sounds like.

Women doing yoga during Chloe Jackman's workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA Women doing yoga during Chloe Jackman's workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We let our booties do that yoga (and boy were we sore).

Women meditating in the yurt during Leah Tioxon's Chakra Alignment workshop at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

After lunch we took a break. Some folks went and aligned their chakras with Camp Witch Leah Tioxon.

The quiet tent provided by Camp'd Out Tents at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Other women retreated to our quiet tent, which was provided by the amazing Camp’d Out Tents.  It was lux and amazing and quiet (and now we all want to sleep in one).

A woman working on a small craft in the quiet tent from Camp'd Out Tent at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And it even gave our staff a chance to sneak away and make lanyards.

Women dancing during a dance workshop with Nicole Gervacio at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

Meanwhile Nicole lead an amazing choreography workshop to Seinabo Sey’s “I Owe You Nothing.” (Do yourself a favor and go listen to that.)

Women dancing during a dance workshop with Nicole Gervacio at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen dancing during a dance workshop with Nicole Gervacio at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We spent two hours diving into the choreography (and decided that next year we needed two days of dance class to master moves). Dancers at all levels, from I’ve danced my whole life (me) to never danced before, all joined together for a mirrorless dance class. And literally nothing is better than dancing in the redwoods. Nothing.

Two women running the bingo game at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We know we wanted to end camp with bingo, aka Maddie’s passion in life. What we didn’t know is that her co-host Najva had never played bingo. (She always points out that being an immigrant shows up in surprising ways, and watching her discover bingo was the world’s most delightful surprise.)

A woman spinning a metal and wood bingo ball spinner at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen jumping up as they win bingo at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And if you were wondering if it’s possible to get impossibly competitive about something that’s pure luck, the answer is yes. Also, get one hundred feminists in a room and they will break from their hyper competitiveness to cheer for anyone who wins.

Two women dressed up, hugging and smiling in the woods at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

The last night of camp was a dance party, with the theme of “go big before you go home.” We told everyone to wear something they never had an excuse to wear, and outfits ranged from the world’s cutest sisters in wigs and pleather (above), to wedding dresses.

Women getting down on the dance floor as DJ Lady Q drops beats at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

DJ Lady Q brought some serious magic, and Jess and I cemented a friendship that started on a dance floor, continued through the magic of a Squarespace website… back on the dance floor.

Women getting down on the dance floor as DJ Lady Q drops beats at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CAWomen getting down on the dance floor as DJ Lady Q drops beats at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA Women from Nicole Gervacio's dance workshop performing a choreographed dance at the dance party at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

At the end of the night, those of us who took the choreography workshop gave a performance to the world’s most supportive crowd.

the moon rising as the sun sets behind the trees at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

We ended our last night at camp all feeling profoundly changed. We were different from the way we’d shown up, and we concluded with a group moon howl, which is as amazing as it sounds.

Farewell ceremony and bonfire, with the whole camp sitting on benches in an amphitheater among the trees at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

The next morning, we had one last surprise for campers. After a hike through the giant redwoods, we gathered in an amphitheater, to mirror the way we started camp. We all had a centering mediation…

women sitting with eyes closed, holding hands, with serious and emotional expressions at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And then chose what we were not taking home with us. That included our brokenness, our suffering, the idea that we don’t fit in anywhere.

Camp leaders standing and holding hands, eyes closed at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA hands burning small pieces of paper in the bonfire at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And then we burned everything we didn’t need anymore.

School buses driving away, past the trees at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And said goodbye, till next year. (We can’t wait till next year.)

Seven women, camp staff, wearing babes in the woods teeshirts, standing in front of the sun rise paper installation at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

This is the tired and amazing staff that pulled it all together. Thanks to Squarespace, we were able to pull together a website for The Compact in a few days, and we launched and produced camp in just a few months. It was grueling, exhausting, and so profoundly rewarding.

Jess Rutherford, lying in front of a fireplace covered with a balloon installation she made, holding a disco ball, wearing a Future is Female teeshirt at the compact summer camp in la Honda, CA

And we have to give a final thank you to our girl Jess, and the Squarespace site that lead us to her, for making the woods look like pure colorful, glittery magic (and not harming a single piece of nature in the process).

APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW18 at checkout. And stay tuned next month for more Compact Summer Camp recaps, brought to you by Squarespace.

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