Tag Archives: summer camp


*Note: Taylor is a member of the student organization USC Troy Camp, a group that mentors/tutors students in the South Central L.A. area and raises funds during the year to send 200 elementary schoolchildren from South L.A. to a week-long summer camp in Idyllwild, CA. This week-long camp is completely run by the counselors, and through the year many legends and traditions have developed that are upheld/told each year at camp, carried on by newer counselors as older ones graduate. Because I am also a member of Troy Camp, she didn’t provide any context for this, so I figured I’d do so to minimize confusion. This is a description of one of our many camp songs – this one’s called “Gigolo.”

The informant learned Gigolo when she first joined Troy Camp as a freshman. Older members either teach it to new members directly or just kind of throw them into it because it’s a call-and-response song. Generally, one person will call to another and that person will eventually show the group “how they gigolo,” and the rest of the group will chant. At the end of the song (which can happen after two people or 20 people do their individual gigolos), the person who just gigolo’d will call out all of Troy Camp instead of an individual, and then there is a longer chant that the whole group sings, with accompanying hand motions. The informant and I walked through the song together.


COLLECTOR (myself): Hey what?

INFORMANT: Are you ready?

COLLECTOR: For what?

INFORMANT: To gig (pronounced jig)!

COLLECTOR: Gig what?


COLLECTOR: Ohhhhhhhhhh. My hands are high [raises hands], my feet are low [point to feet] and this is how I gigolo [do a little dance]!

WHOLE GROUP: Her hands are high [raise hands], her feet are low [point to feet] and this is how I gigolo [mimic dance]. Gig… alo, gig- gig, alo- what what? Gig… alo, gig- gig alo!

Then the person who just did the dance calls out someone else, and the song repeats. Eventually…

INFORMANT: Hey Troy Camp!

WHOLE GROUP: Hey what?

INFORMANT: Are you ready?

WHOLE GROUP: For what?


WHOLE GROUP: Gig what?


WHOLE GROUP: Ohhhh! Bang, bang, choo choo train / wind me up and I’ll do my thing / No Reese’s Pieces, no buttercups / You mess with me I’ll mess you up / My back aches, my belt’s too tight / My hips shake from the left to the right / Left, right, left right left right / I turn around, I touch the ground / I get back up, I break it down / My hands are high my feet are low and this is how I gigolo! [group dances]


Thoughts: Summer camps are known for having different variations of the same songs, and I can personally attest to that in this case. I went to a different summer camp as a kid, and we also sang gigolo, with a couple small alterations (alo alo instead of alo what what, hands are low instead of feet are low). We also didn’t have the group chant bang bang choo choo train part, though something along those lines did comprise a whole separate camp song we sang! “Bang Bang Choo Choo Train” is also used in cheer camps or by cheerleaders as a cheer.

Camp songs are the perfect example of variants – each camp has a very distinct, concentrated culture, and while the general attributes of the song remain the same, little pieces are different and/or specific to the particular camp at which they’re being sung, just like stories or riddles from different countries have the same general framework but vary in their details. These songs have to have started somewhere, so it makes one wonder how they spread from camp to camp, and where exactly they originated.

Gigolo in particular is a great camp song because it allows the group to learn different group members’ names, and lets everyone interact both between individuals and as a greater group/community.




Informant: How did the Ragger Program come about? Am I allowed to know?

Interviewer: Yes of course. So . . . they would always have game and competitions at Y-Camp, that was the big thing at the end of the week to always have competitions- cabin competitions, to see who’s the best cabin or who’s the best . . you know . . swimming, hiking, stuff on the lake. And one year there was this one kid that went to camp  . . . and I guess . . . was he in a wheel chair? Yeah. And he just had great camp spirit. He couldn’t participate in any of the games but he was the greatest camper up there. So one day they tied a plain bandana around his neck as a surprise for him because he was such a great kid . . great camper and that’s how the Ragger Program started.

Interviewer: So is that unique to Ta Ta Pochon?

Informant: No. It’s unique to the YMCA program, so that’s all across the nation and the world

Interviewer: What the process for getting a rag?

Informant: The rag is just an outward sign of your inward challenges. Okay. That’s what it is and its all personal challenges that you’re making to become a better person and you have different levels of the rag. You start with a blue rag and when you’re 12-years old you can get a blue rag. Before that you can get what’s called leathers. So you can start as a little kid and you can get your leathers but it’s not as elaborate. You just make challenges for yourself; to be a better person, a better friend . . . I don’t know. And so for like the blue rag, I don’t know what the first [challenge] is, but it’s like service to others or service to God. It’s personal goals that you should reach yourself. If you think you’ve reached it, then the next year you can go on to the next one. The next one is silver. Which is specific to some other challenge. You make the challenge, the rag challenge, and then you also make an inner challenge so that you can go on the next year. Some people, some years say, “you know what, I’m not ready to move on”. The highest rag is the white rag and we say that those people walk on water. I never got my white rag because I don’t walk on water. The youngest you can get a white rage is 21.

Interviewer: Who decides who gets a white rag?

Informant: You do, but you have to have somebody tie your rag and if that person doesn’t feel that you’re ready, they can say that, “I’m not going to tie your rag”. So with the raggers someone can say, “I don’t feel comfortable tying your next rag,  I think you’re too young, I think you’re just doing it because they status etc.”. Most of the time people take it a little more seriously. Most people say, “I’m not ready to go on to my next rag yet, I think I want to kind stay here”. I stopped at gold. Because when you stop going to camp . . .

Interviewer: How far is that?

Informant: It’s blue, silver, brown, gold and then you have red, purple, white. A lot of people stop at their purples and they are people who have been doing camp for twenty years and they’ll stop at their purples. I have known some people who have gotten their white rags at 22 years old, not too many though, not too many

So that the number one . . . that’s a tradition, and that’s not just specific to Ta Ta Pochon.

Interviewer’s notes:

The story is interesting in that one tradition, from one story, at one camp, has come to influence the YMCA camp tradition of the entire world, which in turn has sparked the use of an international folk object in the form of the rag. Because of the story and the meaning behind it, the rag has come to have more emotional worth than its actual monetary worth; it’s value comes from the tradition of the Ragger Program. Additionally, upon further research I have discovered that there is no one single “Ragger Program” website with which to reference, so each camp has their own individual portion on their websites, which had made for many variations. So aside from the folk object itself, the origin story has become legendary, and thus also folklore.

For a different version of the origin story see: http://ymcablueridgeassembly.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-story-of-the-rag/

Boulder Woman

Boulder Woman

Interviewer: When did you first hear it?

Informant- I heard it when I was first there (Camp Ta Ta Pochon) in 1982, but it goes back for years, way before my time. When they would take the kids up on a hike, there is this abandoned cabin. All that is left is this stone chimney and its made out of boulders and it looks like a chair and they would say that Boulder Woman would sit in that chair at night. Sometimes she would come down to the cabin at night and throw little rocks at the cabin and scare the kids in there.

Interviewer: So was she like a real woman or made of boulders?

Informant: She was a real woman and they would they called her Boulder Woman because she lived in some place in the mountain and she would sit in that abandoned cabin that the only thing left is the chimney. They way it was designed is it looks like a chair and its still up there.

Interviewer explains the variations she has heard

Informant– It can either be boulder man or boulder women, you can pick, that’s the thing. Boulder Man or Boulder Woman would come down at night to the cabins and scare the kids or maybe haunt them somehow. . . Just throwing rocks from up above. Not on the “wilderness” side, on the “civilization side” with the A-frame[cabins].


Interviewer’s notes: The legend is interesting because the origin seems to be from within the camp itself, due to the unique and specific circumstances of the remnant chimney. The multiplicity and variation has been within only a small community of people which has made for only subtle changes from person to person. Perhaps the most notable variation is whether is indeed Boulder Man or Boulder Woman, an interesting twist, perhaps influenced by feminism, which can create gender polarization. As a passive participant, the informant can only relate motifs, though not a specific narrative or origin story, which in part allows for the gender fluidity.

Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow

Informant: So there were these animals who were doing whatever they damn well pleased and God got mad at them and said “your not following out rules”, right? And they said “O.K well, we’re going to do what we want”.  Then God got mad at them and shut off the light on earth so that there was no more light on earth. He put a blanket over the sky to do this. So they’re like, “Oh My God, what do we do? Someone has to go and talk to God and tell him that we’re sorry”. They’re like “Well we can’t find God anywhere, it’s too dark”. They all kind of gave up except this one little sparrow said, “I’m not going to give up. I’m going to fly, fly, fly up there and try and see if I can reach God and talk to him”. So everyday he kept flying up there and he poked through just enough, his beak just poked through the blanket just enough, and then he came back down. He didn’t give up. For years and years he was going up there and he only got just far enough that his little beak poked through and he came back down and then the last time he came back down and he died. The little sparrow died . . .  because he was exhausted from trying. All the other animals were like, “ we feel so bad”. So God at one point said, “because of his sacrifice, I will give you light back, but it’s only going to be half the time as punishment and the other half of the time, you will have darkness under the blanket”. And that’s why we have stars. Those aren’t stars; those are the little beak marks poking though the darkness.

Interviewer’s notes:  

This is a creation myth that I found a bit unusual that it was being told at YMCA, a Christian organization’s, camp because they narrative deviates from that of the Bible. Though it is clear to see why the tale is included as the perseverance and God-obedience aspects of the story are in keeping with Christian ideas. The tale itself, however, seemed to be more congruent with Native American folk tales, but the informant had only ever heard it at camp and did not know the origin. Also, the informant’s role as a passive participant is evident through the colloquial language, non-fixed phrases, and uncertainty.

The Doctor and the Architect

The Doctor and the Architect

Informant: Okay so there are two friends, best friends and one grows up to be an architect and one’s a doctor. Then they grow apart because the architect is jealous of the doctor’s success. So the doctor says to the architect that he wants a house and he say’s that he will pay for the supplies. He says he wants the greatest house in the greatest location. So the architect is like, “oh, well, this is my chance”. So they architect goes no to the best location for the “Great house”, and buys the cheapest wood for the “Great house” and buys the cheapest paint for the “great house”. Then he would charge the doctor for the price of the good stuff and keep the cash for himself. So at the point that the house was done, it was a good house, not a great house. So when it was done, the architect presented it to the doctor, but the doctor said, “this house is for you”.

Interviewer’s notes:

This tale is moralistic and fable-esque, in keeping with the Christian traditions of YMCA camp. It implies that a person should always put their best effort forward because one only gets what he gives. Since there is no overt reference to Christianity, this also could coincide with the idea of karma, which would connect the story across religions. The story is told at camp to indoctrinate the kids with a strong moral compass. The setting of camp, the tradition it has as being told orally, means that the tale has the advantage to be really resonate with the campers-which is evident in the young informant’s ability to recall the story. Also, this could be a bit of occupation folklore, playing off of the stereotypes of the respective careers and being inherently and being unsuccessful.