In August 2018, Portland Street Art Alliance and WolfBird Dance hosted the first annual one-week summer camp for female-identifying students ages 11-14. YAE! Young Artists Empowerment Camp was held at Clay Creative in the Central Eastside Industrial District of Portland. This program provides a platform to develop artistic voices and find empowerment through art and dance.
During the two-week camp, ten young women from diverse communities across Portland were provided street art/dance training, accompanied by workshops to learn about the pillars of hip hop and the history and background of this culture: Graffiti (freedom of expression in public space), MC-ing (rhythmic poetry, aka rapping), DJ-ing (artfully blending melodies using a turntable), Breakdancing (a highly expressive style of street dancing), and Knowledge (skills and community building). We dove deep into the fundamentals of hip-hop dance, focusing on free-styling techniques, battling tactics, and how to learn and remember choreographed patterns. They also received lessons in letter-making, drawing, aerosol painting techniques, mural composition, and paint safety.
YAE! Camp provides young women a platform to feel empowered and become creative, productive, and confident members of our community. We offered instruction from an eclectic staff of dancers and artists to display diversity in all forms of artistic professionalism. We brought guest speakers throughout the week to talk about their art and other programs happening in our city, also lead by women. With the culmination of this camp, students worked together to create a choreographed dance, participate in an all female dance battle, and collaborate on the development of four different murals (one of which is still on display to the public at 420 SE Clay St in Portland). Our students presented these performances and murals at our final YAE! Camp wrap party, closing out the program with an opportunity for our young artists to show off their new skills to friends, family, and the community.
In the mornings, camp participants were guided by mentors from WolfBird Dance to explore how freestyle and hip-hop can provide empowerment, healing, and comfort in one’s own body. With the support of five main dance camp mentors, we taught the fundamentals of different styles of hip hop such as Krump, Wacking, and popping. We also provided the tools and understanding of how to develop your own freestyle voice and what techniques to use in a battle, while simultaneously teaching the importance of how to learn and retain hip hop technique and choreography. On the final day of YAE! Camp, our students performed their choreography and participated in a final all-female dance battle.
The afternoon session was led by members of the Portland Street Art Alliance. Students were guided through the entire process of creating a mural, including visualizing, sketching, and painting with aerosol and brush basic techniques. They were provided both one-on-one and group lessons with PSAA’s mentors. The final collaborative YAE! Camp Mural is on-display in the garage of Clay Creative, now a part of the larger Taylor Electric Project, a historic site in the Central Eastside of Portland that provides rotating wall space for local artists.
Camp was extended by two hours to invite friends, family, and the community to come see what we created and learned together. Students performed a choreographed dance, showing off their new confidence and training on how to collaborate, move through space and remember choreography. Their participation in our all-female dance battle, showed their knowledge of artistic choice in free-styling and freedom of expression through dance. We then presented their group murals. The teams presented why they chose their design, what it meant to them, and their favorite camp experiences. This event was not only an opportunity for our students to show their work, but also a chance for the community to see what real possibilities lie ahead when a safe space for learning and creativity is provided to young emerging artists.
On the final day of camp, we encouraged a show and share, an opportunity for the girls to share something unique about themselves, and a time for us as mentors, to encourage the girls to use this individuality in their art. Many students shared from their black books (YAE! Camp provided sketch books, for the girls to keep and practice in) their drawing styles.
One student from Mongolia shared her new found passion for taking graffiti style lettering and transposing it onto Mongolian letters. Two other students taught us about traditional African and Mexican dance. They brought the outfits required for these dance styles and performed some of the routines for us. One student told us she now likes experimenting with incorporating traditional African dance moves into her freestyle practices.