A Country Boy Finds Inspiration in Dancing Drum
by Hudson Hornick
Connotations of drum circles lead to uncomfortable things for a country boy. Growing up in New Orleans, I had my fair share of exposure to different forms of music, but despite my hometown’s eclectic musical influences, the Central Coast of California remains a nebulous part of what registers as a hippie stronghold in the minds of some Southerners. “What are you gonna do?” they would ask. “Move to California and join some drum circle or something?”
Apparently, yeah. What intrigues you, shall lead you, so when I heard of Dancing Drum, a part of the Children’s Creative Project (CCP, a county program), and all the positive support that it’s been drumming up recently, I decided to swing by and check it out last month. Wholly unprepared and a little late, I ran into the center on East Gutierrez Street, where I was warmly welcomed by Steve Campbell and Lindsay Rust, cofounders of Dancing Drum. After a brief introduction to some of the other attendees, they sat me down and Rust kindly asked, “Do you want to play a djembe or a djun djun?”
Trying in vain to recall my musical roots, I replied with distinct confidence, “Uhhh, definitely the djun djun.” She handed me a cylindrical, double-headed bass drum with two sticks. There was no initial introduction or formalities, just a “Good evening, everyone; this is what style we’ll be playing, here’s the beat I’d like you to start with,” and we were off.
The djembe is a percussion drum played with your hands that apparently synchronizes quite nicely with the djun djun. We djun djuns set the rhythm and break, while the djembes could lead, so to speak. I drummed. It was hot. I took a collared shirt off. I drummed. It was hot. I loosened up. My partner next to me helped me with my form and technique by smiles, head nods, and gestures. Awkwardly at first, but gradually increasing in confidence and posture, I caught on and let go.
“And that’s what it’s all about. Just be loose and let the rhythm take you.” Those words of advice from Campbell and Rust still ring clearly in my head, weeks after the class. And with a cumulative 20 years of experience drumming beneath their belts — including excursions to Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, and Belize in search of different rhythms to drum and dance to — they know what they’re doing.
“We just wanted a place — a clean, sterile environment, where everyone can feel safe to come and experience the benefits of drumming,” explained Campbell of Dancing Drum’s new, 900-square-foot studio. The center is a beautifully redecorated corner in a tucked-away section of 810 East Gutierrez. With new wooden flooring, Tuareg jewelry, and mirrors adorning the walls alongside handcrafted masks made by Rust and her students, one instantly feels the tangible ambiance of the center.
With ongoing budget cuts, many schools and social work programs are struggling for positive, constructive outlets. Campbell and Rust wanted to help bridge the gap by providing meaningful arts enrichment programs for their community. “When you realize you can do what you love and help people at the same time, that’s a great thing,” said Rust of their decision to make Dancing Drum a permanent fixture in Santa Barbara earlier this year. But Dancing Drum is nothing new — since 2002, the pair had been spreading the power of the drum up and down the coast, even as far as the Midwest, reaching more than 35,000 people of all age demographics.
Campbell admits beginning any nonprofit is hard, but Dancing Drum is making it work. With the center being open only a little longer than a month, they are already almost breaking even. “The CCP is our nonprofit fiscal umbrella, and part of the S.B. County Office of Education,” he explained. “Their support has been tremendous, as 60 to 70 percent of our funding now comes from grants.” And what they do with that money is amazing. From subbing for school music teachers and teaming up with Mike’s Drum Shop to providing workshops on drumming and mask-making for corporate execs and keeping their regular class schedule, Dancing Drum is always up to something.
And the month of May proves to be no different: World-famous percussionist Luis Conte is hosting an Afro-Cuban drum workshop on May 20, and the annual Summer Solstice Parade rehearsals, which willing participants can be a part of, start May 31.
It’s not easy to begin somewhere. Most of us want to remain unnoticed, to slide by while doing our work well, not making too much of a fuss. But we forget that sometimes it’s important to let ourselves be heard. To spread our wings and fly a bit. To be noticed. I recently had the chance to do so, and so can you. Somewhere in between the beat of those drums, you let go, you realize you can bang on them as loudly as you want and you’re still in tune with everyone else. You forget to be silent. You remember that although humans are essentially animal, there is an innate sense of rhythm in all of us. Dancing Drum makes sure you find that and assures you that in the end, you can dance to the beat of your own drum.
4•1•1 Dancing Drum offers a variety of classes every week, but highlights include Luis Conte’s Afro-Cuban drum workshop on May 20 and Summer Solstice drum classes, which begin May 31. Call 682-8250 or see dancingdrum.com.