June 25, 2012

The (DRUM)circle

This past Sunday I went back to Meridian Hill Park to observe a long standing community tradition - the Drum Circle. I was quite intrigued when I was there the first time. Having parents of African decent and after living in Nigeria for many years, I'm quite familiar with Nigerian culture. Nigeria has about 250 ethnic groups and about 510 different languages (about 3 major languages with multiple dialects that filter through the regions). I speak Ibo, my parents are from the South, and I can tell you that certain Ibo dialects are hard to understand let alone speak. With the variety in languages, you also have different cultural groups. Each group adopts a different type of dance. Ultimate show in true cultural form are the many festivals when all these groups come together in a parade, usually quite elaborate. Notable holidays are Nigerian Independence day and the Calabar carnival. During these events there are colorful displays of tradition, culture and dance.

The Drum Circle, in a small way takes me back to Africa; it's the rich Afro beats and the dancing. I was initially pleasantly surprised to learn about the Drum Circle and the fact that it has been around for years. In the ensemble, there are skilled and unskilled drummers, percussionists, guitarists, etc. all playing together. It's open to everyone so you can bring your dusty set of drums out of the attic and put it to good use here. 

I decided to partake in the activities this time around. Got there around 3pm. Upon arrival there were two dancers and everyone else just stood around observing the drummers. The drumming was a little bit uninspiring at first; seemed like everyone was just getting started. Close to two hours later, after the crowd grew and the music gained momentum, lo and behold: dancers! They were basically made up of people in the crowd, once they started there was no stopping them. I stood at the back of the crowd on top of one of the benches. I observed as the dancers moved synchronously and changed their steps on cue. At first I wondered how they got the cue, I then noticed the leader up front - the dance instructor. Very vibrant and spunky the instructor was; he has been doing this for a while, he certainly made it fun. 

Being a first timer, I was certainly self conscious, I worried about not following the rhythm and making a fool of myself, every one appeared to have it down pat. I decided to participate anyway, even if I looked like a fool, all I needed to do was loosen up. Ok, so I'm almost forgetting to mention my new onset back pain and stiffness that made it difficult to move in certain positions. When I decided to join in the dance, my boyfriend looked at me like I was nuts...then he asked "Are you crazy? You have a bad back." To that I smiled and said "I'm doing it."

During one of the few seconds break I joined the rest of the crew waiting for cues from the instructor. I stood next to the instructor who looked at me, smiled and motioned for me to join in. His spunky personality had me and everyone laughing. He was certainly funny. At first he started with a few quick change steps, which everyone was able to do, then he went into some moves; flipping back and forth, getting down and flailing his legs up (reminds me of South African dance). I noticed that I wasn't the only one who was often out of rhythm with some of his steps!!! Let's just say you have to have done that repeatedly, like a few folks in the crowd, to really get it.

Needless to say, that was fun and I'd do it again...LOL.

Learn more about the Drum Circle here.

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