Most folks experience two types of energy: tense & calm. Yet most of the time the default for so many of us is tension! We call this stress, & the medical community agrees that it wreaks havoc on our health, creating imbalances physically, emotionally, & mentally, sometimes manifesting as acute or chronic illness or disease. Without argument, decreasing stress in our lives is considered key to vibrant health.
But how? Stress seems to be something we’ve come to accept as a part of everyday life. And those moments when we feel calm, are few & fleeting, at best.
To drum, sing & dance, is nothing new. As folk arts — meaning participatory arts for everyday people — they’ve been around for a while. In fact, they’re activities that have been known about, enjoyed, & practiced for thousands of years, in the ceremonies & celebrations of temples, town halls, & town squares.
Their health-promoting benefits are finally being recognized, studied & documented by modern medical science. They can be brain-stimulating, lung-strengthening, body-oxygenating, group-unifying, immune-boosting, nervous system-nourishing….
cardio-pumping, nerve-calming, and for some, deeply healing.
Drumming, singing, & dancing can help to quiet the busy mind, uplift the burdened spirit, restore the aching heart, & channel emotional energy in a healthy & productive way. Like any focused activity, they can root us in the present moment, enabling the mind’s common pre-occupation with re-runs of our past & concerns about our future — which only serve to disconnect us from tasks, thoughts, & feelings happening now — to quiet. Dissipating that inner chatter & its weight on our psyches allows us to lighten up, reduce general stress, & allow for a greater sense of well-being, wholeness & connectedness.
I’m a firm believer in & promoter of Participatory Music & Dance, once a part of everyday human life, worldwide! There are some regions — Bahia, Brazil & Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, for instance, which happen to be 2 of our favorite places in the world to visit — where today people continue to enjoy multi-generational kitchen & backyard music-making, & even dancing in the streets, regularly. Imagine that! They seem to live by the credence, When times are good, make music & dance! When times are bad, make music & dance!
These are typically regular folks, like you & me. Take the restaurant wait staff who gave us impromptu drum performances & lessons in Egypt. When they learned that all 20 or so Americans & Canadians in our group were percussionists, they were excited to play for us & teach us the folkloric frame drum styles of their Nubian culture.
In our culture, however, most music & dance happen on a stage in a performance setting. We, the audience, enjoy listening & watching from our seats (with maybe a little toe-tapping, if that). This passive role can prevent us from seeing ourselves as natural musicians or dancers, when those musicians & dancers could instead be inspiring our own creative impulses to express ourselves & make music & dance.
But we feel shy, inhibited, not good enough. Why? Well, look at who we’re comparing ourselves to — the crafted performers on stage! Only those who’ve been schooled & skilled in the arts are considered entitled to create & express. What a disservice we’ve done to ourselves & each other.
The creative process of the human spirit is as natural as breathing. Creativity is where learning takes place, what evolution depends on, & is the stuff of which a life is made. Every child learns by being curious, exploring their bodies & environment, making connections & discoveries, & creating their world. Every act of art & every act of science is a process, an inquiry — to question, explore, discover, & create. And from the moment we utter our first coo & wiggle our first jiggle, we’re engaging in our inherent ability to sing & dance.
Rhythm is our mother tongue. While in utero, you were rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ to the pulse of your mother’s blood. And as you did, all your sense perceptions developed to that rhythm. That means we all come into this world already with very intense rhythm training! Once born, we walk in rhythm, talk in rhythm, breathe in rhythm, & our own heartbeats are the little drums inside us.
And the beauty of singing & dancing, the only instrument you need to bring, is you. The body was also the very first drum.
For about 25 years, I’ve been involved with & guiding people ages 9 months to 99 years, on their drum & dance paths. Time & again I’ve witnessed the positive effects of rhythm in their lives. I’ve heard testimony of their transformative experiences from these practices, allowing them to feel centered, fluid, focused, & free, able to make choices & take action from the deepest & wisest parts of themselves.
And, to have fun!
I’ve seen children’s awareness open when I introduce them to a drum that was made in a faraway land they primarily hear about in negative news stories. And when a child plays that drum, & other children are playing percussion instruments from other parts of the world, together they make music. Or at least a joyful noise! I’d like to think that in that moment, on some level, there’s global harmony.
Students have told me, “I have 2 left feet”, “I have no sense of rhythm”, or “I don’t play music, the only thing I can play is the radio!”. Whether they’re an 8 year-old-boy or a woman of a certain age, it’s an honor to help shatter the false self-images that some people have assimilated into their beliefs. Maybe they were influenced a parent, or an irresponsible 3rd grade music teacher who told them many years ago to stand in the back & mouth the words. Or maybe it was just society in general that gave them the self-concept that singing, dancing, or making music, isn’t something they can do, even if they want to.
It doesn’t really matter what happened… Inhibitions were created from whatever outside sources that said, “Don’t do that, you’re no good at it, so don’t let anyone see or hear you doing it!” What matters is what’s happening now, which instead says, “Here’s a joyful space we invite you to, where it’s safe to express yourself in participatory music-making & dance.”
What an honor it is to witness people breaking free from those chains, reveling in their re-creation!
I’ve been awed by the transformative magical mystery of The Drum, The Song, & The Dance. I’ve seen firsthand how these arts bring people together. Strangers become new friends, delivered & restored in a state of unity, equality, empowerment, happiness, contentment, & peace.
It’s good ancient medicine for life in our modern world!
The power of the pulse has profoundly affected my own life, & my heart beats to do this work! I’m grateful for it, & to the people who over the decades have supported my path in it. I’m happy to say I must’ve been doing something right, as several former students, in both Maine & Florida, are teaching drumming to others.
Teaching & facilitating circles of rhythm & movement based groups is my spiritual practice. I remain committed to making it my positive contribution toward your own blossoming inner light, & the healing of our planet.
In honor of my teachers, my teacher’s teachers, the teachers before them, & so on… One drum, one dance, one hum, one strum, one song, one breath, one om, one heart, & one everything,
Barbara Gail, born on a Tuesday