Theme Camp Dues & Don’ts

The concept of a Theme Camp can be bewildering to someone who has never been to Burning Man. Deciding if you want to join a camp, start a camp, or go solo can be a tough decision. Some camps are open to anyone, others are close-knit families. Some are based on sacred service, others pour drinks, others blow minds. All give gifts to Black Rock City… and the requirements to be a part of each camp are unique.

My camp is not an open camp. Everyone has connected either online or on previous adventures. We have strict participation requirements that include: sharing a “who I really am” essay, attending meetings in person or via webcam, Leave No Trace shifts, Water Bar shifts, set-up & break down commitments, & financial contribution in the form of dues.

Occasionally I have people ask, “If I pay dues, what do I get?”


I spent a few minutes discussing the topic of “Theme Camp Dues.”

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

24 Comments on “Theme Camp Dues & Don’ts

  • Nebula says:

    YES! Exactly, thank you. You don’t join a theme camp for amenities, you join them to BUILD something you believe in, and to offer something to the community. I’m so glad he comments on camp dues, camp dues are part of your GIFT to the community. Or at least they should be.

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  • t groan says:

    Another sanctimonious sermon that basically boils down to ‘give to us but don’t expect anything back….’

    Giving to the playa (the real playa and not John’s imaginary one) wouldn’t include thousands of polluting vehicles, explosions, and plastic garbage.

    I’ve an idea for a gift from John. No more videos, lectures, or sermonizing.

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  • Russell says:

    don’t expect too many hotties to sign up. it’s common knowledge amongst women who look a certain way that participation simply means showing up and looking pretty. and they require certain services to be provided to the, by campmates to assure they will be able to look pretty at all times, with very little effort.

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  • alex says:

    “If I pay dues, what do I get?” is a reasonable question. Theme camps want both money and labor from members. Its questionable what the value is of that money and labor. Some theme camps exploit their members. Theme camps are not doing people a favor by letting people join. Black rock citizens can hang out, eat and drink at theme camps without being members. But if youre a member you do a shitload of free labor and pay too.

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  • Numero Cinco says:

    Wonderful. Just what i was looking for to explain to my campmates what camp dues are all about.

    Thank you, halcyon, for all the great posts. Will try to find you for a hug :)

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  • What I love about the Playa – and Life – is that if something is not your cup of tea, just walk a few steps and pay attention to something else. I hope anyone who is bothered by my videos knows that viewing them is voluntary. :)

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  • candon says:

    Who allowed this self righteous pr*** into the blog area ?

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  • Scott R says:

    Alex, I think a better way to ask the question of Dues is, “Am I willing to pay to help a particular group or camps efforts to improve the BM experience on the playa?” If you ask it in that way you will answer the question “what do I get?”. As you stated, You are not Required to be part of this or that camp or group. If you do decide to participate in a theme camp you should know what you are getting into and make sure that the group is helping the BM experience in a way that you too want to do that in.

    T groan, Your comments are interesting. I like the one where you say it “basically boils down to ‘give to us but don’t expect anything back….’”. Isn’t that one of the 10 priciples? Maybe the GIFTING principle? As far as watching videos, I truly am sorry that you were forced to watch a video that you did not want to. The best way that I have found to fix things is to do them better.

    I think that people join theme camps at first to participate then because it becomes like family and more like HOME.

    For a new person, who is trying to adhere to the 10 principles, a theme camp could be the path to guide them and help them to understand more fully what they mean and how they are implemented on the playa.

    Theme camps won’t be for everyone, but if you find one that clicks with you and you think that others would benefit from a similar experience then why not help it to exist and to grow?

    It all comes down to choice.

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  • T. Jax says:

    Alex you are so right! Theme camps want money, we need labor too! We bust our ass so anyone in the city can walk up and enjoy what we’ve made anytime they want, as many times as they want for free! Its great.

    If being one of the people responsible for putting that all together for others makes you light up inside then the question of the value of camp dues is a distant second or fifth to a number of other things.

    Its all a matter of how much participating in making the city wonderful means to you, and how one chooses to do it.

    PS. WE COULD REALLY USE A FEW MORE CAMPERS AT OSIRIS (10 Esplanade) to make it work this year.

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  • Dusty Lashes says:

    Thank you for your presence and good insight you give to this BM community and outside. KEEP IT UP! You inspire me, and sometimes, I get so moved by the things you say, I tear up. I am really hoping to finally meet you this year for that hug!

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  • Rob says:

    I think the opinion around camp “Dues” can be different depending on if the participant comes with the expectation of BM as a big Party, or a social/cultural event. If it’s a party, yes I want my dues going to make it a better party with colder beer, hotter showers, and cuter girls included. If, as with John’s statements here, it’s a communal event for you with a bit deeper purpose, the concept of camp due allows the camp to prepare and offer a richer playa experience. I belong to one of the largest camps on the playa, we pay dues and we bust our asses each year to provide communal spaces, visual art, interactive displays, and several art cars to enjoy. It would not happen without the small dues we collect. – Before you judge John’s statements, go visit Pink Heart camp and see what camp “dues” enables and what a whole lot of hard work and love delivers!

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  • piko! says:

    It’s all in the attitude!

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  • Chrispy says:

    John, what if someone simply asks you “what do my camp dues cover?” instead of ““If I pay dues, what do I get?” – would you provide them – the person giving up what is probably hard-earned cash – an explanation?

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  • @Chrispy – Absolutely! It makes total sense to understand what you are building, where the money goes, and what you are helping gift.

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  • Captain mcguiver says:

    These guys with all this anger towards John mesmerizes me. You’ve never met him have you? If you had you would probably be quiet because he’s really bad at being a prick. Guessing you are just clueless knee jerk reactionaries with little concept of John and what he does. I don’t need to sit here and be another fan boy but seriously some of you need to shut up and go away. Your negative energy is unwanted and unwarranted. Go hang out with Insane clown posse and be with people more your style.

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  • David @ Snowflake Village says:

    John’s videos have helped me very much in preparing for my first burn in 2011 and I thank him for that. It was amazing and the only thing I forgot was my long-johns haha! I was sad after the burn that I did not meet him cause I wanted too, but you know..I kept getting busy all the time :)
    I will meet him this year! see you at the burn John! :)
    P.S. maybe I will come for the Pink Ride! or at least try hehe

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  • Hibiscus says:

    Russell, I don’t know who you hang out with, but in our camp, you will find “hotties” pounding rebar with sledgehammers, wielding power tools, fixing things, and making things happen. While wearing miniskirts and boots. I suggest you upgrade the quality of chicks you burn with.

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  • ~ender says:

    Man, I didn’t know I was going to the video section. Where’re the blogs? Ya know, with people who can sling words?

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  • Strider says:

    I loved this explanation, as it clarifies and brings back home the reason we even do theme camps. I try to tell everyone who wants to join our camp the same thing, but this is more elegant, thoughtful and complete. Kudos! Strider, Velevet Chupacabra

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  • Steph says:

    *Hug* Thank you so much for re-affirming that giving, by act or by spirit, is the essence of the deliberated, thoughtful (and sadly temporary) nature of the Burning Man society. I very much hope to encounter your sea of pink on the playa.

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  • Ernie says:

    I love the way you reframe the mindset about dues from “getting” to “giving.” In retrospect, I’ve jumped back and forth between those mindsets. You’ve made me think about where I use them and how I can shift.

    I hope to meet you on the playa!

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  • James says:

    Very interesting discussion. I work for a labor union and have similar discussions about dues with our members about every week, who ask the same question, “What do we get for our dues?” What I’ve realized over the years of having this discussion is that people need a context that is familiar and relatable to their lives to understand the concept. We represent a lot of lower wage earners who also tend to be regular church-goers in a heavily African-American community, and with these members I ask about the practice of tithing; do they ask their pastor what they “get” for contributing to the collection plate? Do they expect to “get” forgiven by depositing a few dollars? Of course not. They understand that what they give helps build, sustain and improve the organization, which in turn benefits them. But other than the religious or non-profit example, our society is completely built around the transactional concept. Can we really blame people who have been ensconced in this world view their whole life to not expect it everywhere, even the Playa? John, your video is not just a patient discussion about theme camps, it’s a critical part of a cultural shift in moving from a cold, hard transactional state to seeing how what we do together improves ourselves, others around us and society as a whole. On and OFF the Playa. Love you man.

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  • Vishnu says:

    Well said! Thank you!

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