Dancing to a Different Drum

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.

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