Many Drum Circles are simply a circle of drums
and other percussion,
maybe a fire.
If you are lucky,
there are also
It is as if the rhythm flowers into something new.
As the music is played,
a dancer moves in the ebb and flow of rhythm.
The Drummers watch and respond with their playing
and so too the dancers
weave their movements.
Over the years I have had the blessing
of knowing a hand full of dancers
who knew how to work a drum.
I am not a dancer
(as many would testify)
but as a drummer I would like to suggest a few ideas
to help keep the communication between
drummer and dancer clear.
Once you get a good handle of your drum:
learn basic rhythms,
develop a technique which will produce tone
without damaging your hands
and develop a level of endurance
for at least 20 to 30 minutes per session;
I would recommend finding
a cooperative dancer
Play together for long enough periods
so as you may anticipate what the other is doing.
Continually try new rhythms and movements,
do not narrow your options with “classic beats”
or get comfortable with the same patterns.
The Down Beat
(yes, that again)
is the foundation of the pattern.
For the dancers,
this is where they place their feet.
most dancers will “sit this one out”.
Make sure it is constant,
steady and easily found.
make sure you provide
a place for them to put their feet.
In most drum circles you will hear a repeating rhythm or theme.
More often than not,
it is a borrowed pattern from a classic African piece,
but at times it could be lifted
from an old Pink Floyd song
(One of these days…).
I call this The Floor.
With the down beat as the foundation,
you can “move” from floor to floor
and so long as the foundation is constant,
the Dancers will have no issue.
I have heard some dancers tell me
they often move their hips to the floor.
With the higher sound of the smaller drums,
voice at a tenor or alto,
secondary rhythms are introduced and stacked,
sometimes played upside down or backwards.
All of this is fine
so long as the down beat is constant.
Some dancers use these rhythms for torso and shoulders.
Over the top of all of this
is what is more commonly known as
the “lead” drum.
These are the melodies:
they come and go;
phrased like conversations
as the beat moves on.
If you have a full circle and have the luxury to have “lead drummers” play,
they can go back and forth for hours at a time.
The Dancers have told me they respond to the lead drum with their hands,
but I have seen dancers riding the tides of movement
with little concern of which moves what.
If you are in a position where you have fewer drums,
most drummers swap positions
From Down beat to Lead
without even thinking about it,
but it can be a real workout.
Holding the down beat,
floor and lead is a challenge
and requires a level of multitasking
which can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
If you are lucky
and are blessed with dancers at your drum circle,
please be aware that as a drummer
you are providing them places to put their feet.
Many of them dance with their eyes closed
and are trusting the ground will be there
when they put a foot down,
make sure it is there.
If you are tired and must stop
(for what ever reason)
make sure there are other drummers
which will continue as you withdraw.
Decrease your volume before stopping all together.
In this way the ground will still be there for the dancer.
If you are the primary drummer
or Facilitator for the circle,
a good way to come to a conclusion
is to gradually slow the rhythm down.
This allows the dancer to be aware
you will be “turning off the juice”.
never simply stop:
many dancers have fallen
because they were relying on the drumming.
for a person who is not a big lover of rules,
I will offer this one:
Never Drop the Dancer
They will love you for it.