Why sacred drumming and dancing in our culture

I was playing with a Rhythm and Blues rock band in Venice, California at a bar called Brennan’s. Its still there. This was a long time ago.
It was a normal night in a bar. We were playing some Allman Brothers songs and I noticed a good looking woman in her mid twenties trying to dance at the front of the stage. But she was being harassed by a guy who would not leave her alone. Eventually she jumped up onto the stage and came to the drumset and stood next to me while we were playing. She leaned over and kissed me and said, “This band sucks but you’re great!” I was of course flattered and asked her name. Jenny stood next to my drumset while we played out the rest of the songs. I could see that the guy who had been harassing her was lurking around at the foot of the stage but there was nothing he could do. Eventually he left and we finished the set. She then left the stage and the club, there was no exchange of phone numbers or raincheck appointments. She just left when she felt safe. That made a big impression on me. I thought about it as we loaded out the equipment and came to some important realizations. Firstly, that it was not safe for women to dance in our culture There was no place for sacred ecstatic dance- especially in a night club. I had witnessed the same event for too many years; a woman would dance and a creep would hit on her. Secondly, this woman named Jenny did not jump up on the stage to flirt with me, She was going to the safest place in the club. This was not because I was a formidable figure, rather it was because the beat was creating a safe space. It was the beat that protected her. I decided something very important as we loaded out our equipment. I turned to the lead guitar player and told him, “I am not doing this kind of drumming anymore.”
“Why?” he exclaimed, “You’re the groove machine!”
“I will not put women in harm’s way anymore.”
He frowned with confusion, so I explained,
“I was trained by some of the greats. When I hit a groove people dance. That’s what I do. But it’s not safe for women to dance in our culture. Guys feel compelled to hit on them. The women dancers are not asking for sex, they just want to dance. There is no place for women to create sacred, ecstatic, sensual trance dance in our culture. When I drum women (and men) go into trance because that is what I learned how to do when I was a kid down in the Caribbean and the Chitlin Circuit across the deep South in the early sixties. I learned from the best but when I create that trance groove it is not safe for the women to go into trance and dance. So as of tonight I will not play any more clubs. Not until it is safe for women to dance. I have to create a different world. A world where it is safe for women to dance. And a world where men will protect that safe space. So the first step I took in creating this new world was to write the book, “Let the Goddess Dance” Llewellytn Worldwide publishing retitled it “Drumming the Spirit to Life” and that started a new way of looking at drumming and dance. The book did well and I received many emails thanking me for explaining the concept of the downbeat and how it supports the dance grooves. Then I received one email from Kansas asking me to come out and participate in a festival. When I arrived at Heartland the organizers explained to me that there were three “djembe cowboys” who were ruining the festival for the last three years because they were not allowing others to drum and they were not playing any real grooves that worked for the sacred dance. They were just banging and making a lot of noise. So the next three nights became a confrontation not only with these three blockheads who couldn’t play and would not respect the dancers and drummers both women and men but also there was born a new consciousness about sacred trance dancing in our country. I realized that we had arrived at the beginning of a new era where some peopele were ready to accept the role of protecting the sacred ecstatic dance by holding the space in a protective and humble nurturing manner and not to overpower it with machismo. It was a beginning. Not a perfect beginning but none the less the discussion was now open. The women festival dancers told the bully drummers that they wanted the type of drumming that was a steady, laid- back groove where they could move with grace and fluidity and joy, not franic egotistical train wreck banging. While I showed the drummers how to hold a laid back groove, I witnessed the dancers able to move in ecstatic trance feeling safe enough to trust the groove. Indigenous cultures all over the world have this tradition of protecting the sacred dance. It is a needed function that blesses the community. If we cannot have this in our own culture then we are doomed. When the dancers are safe, they dance and the life force they exude blesses the community. We all benefit from this blessing. We need the blessing of the dance to nurture and evolve the community. If the women in our culture are prevented from blessing the community with their dance then their energy would turn bitter and sour. When the rhythmic blessing is allowed to permeate the whole culture then we will evolve and find a higher consciousness within the grooves. This is life enhancing. The women dancers have a mission if they choose to accept it; to dance and drum with and for the men and show them what the grooves for dancing sound like and feel like. The men need to be shown how to feel this miraculous eternal energy. They have been tricked into focusing on technique and power which is the old mindset. The new dancers and drummers, especially women, will lead us out of the darkness into a healthy life- affirming society where the sacred trance dance is safe and protected by all the participants. It is the drummers job to maintain this trance groove state. These are steady, medium tempo grooves. Most dance grooves are not that fast. The woman can show us how to do this through their dancing. The drummer needs to watch the dancers to learn the right grooves. The dancers and the drummers are together in an equal partnership. If the woman are not dancing it is not their fault, it is the job of the drummers to find the grooves that get them to dance. That usually means that the drummer has to back off the tempo and the volume. Leave some space and slow down. Making and maintaining a safe, ecstatic sacred space that is protected and joyous.

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