Planet Drum:
A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm
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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Dancing to Live Drumming
by Lucy Lipschitz 

Dancing to live drumming keeps human history alive. It is important for belly dancers to have a chance to dance to live drumming as much as possible. For any who have, most would agree that there is an incredibly charged energy, that the dancing gets better, the audience is more active and responsive, and it is just much more fun. Choreography to taped music is still dynamic, of course, but dancers get a different perspective when they have live drums to dance to.

I will be honest. Live drumming is very important to me; I love and honor the old ways of my ancestors; I love tradition, I even love other people's ancestors. Drumming is part of the old traditions. And of course, the old ways are still alive in many ways, and are not really dead.

The Drum can express all human emotions:
joy, sorrow, elation, and grief.

In cultures where drumming is still used, the Drum is treated like a living, breathing person. It is taken care of as if it is a special member of the family. Most cultures believe that drumming is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. This gives drummers a unique place in their society, where drumming and dancing are a part of daily life. They are the keeper s of the rhythm of life.

Okay, maybe most belly dancers don't believe all the stuff I just talked about, and that's fine, they don't need to. But it's important to remember the traditions that go with drumming and belly dancing. That is what makes this dance form special, that it is connected to a long historical past. If we do not remember this past, then what is the point of belly dancing at all? Why not just do another form of dance?

Dancing to live drumming means we are acting spontaneously. We may not have the comfort and safety of every move being choreographed, of hearing every little note. We are getting back to the roots of our ancestors, back to the days when life was more spontaneous, when people lived in tribes or small family groups.

Dancing and drumming have been inseparable; they were and are used for very important ceremonies, such as weddings, births, and religious festivals. Drumming and dancing were also a way to keep friendships and alliances alive, not for glorifying the dancer. Here in North America, one can go to a pow wow even now, and see how drumming and dancing are used to gather people together in friendship, to dance and socialize. Drumming is an inseparable piece of a pow wow.

In the tribal days, a good dancer could help the watchers become involved in different emotions, just as they can do now. Even healing was done through dance. In these modern times, with people feeling left out and alone, a good dancer can still impart many different emotions to an audience. When audiences come to see a really live belly dance performance, in a way they are feeling what people used to feel in the past; the audience, drummers, and dancer become connected in the moment. It is so exciting to experience this! And wondrous to think that long ago, all of our ancestors felt this communication, no matter what culture we come from.

It is crucial that all belly dancers be encouraged to dance to live drumming at least once in a while, to get the feel of what belly dancing is about. In this modern time, there are dancers who will not dance to drumming. They may fear being spontaneous or worry that their music will be drowned out by the drumming. They simply cannot dance unless they are in total control of the music which is played. Choreography is important, but there are times when a dance loses all "heart", because of over-practiced movements.

Yes, belly dancing has been modernized, but it is still that very special dance form that has deep meaning for most of us who dance. It isn't just about choreography, it is a spontaneous dance form. To be so worried about not doing a perfectly memorized routine takes away from the spirit of belly dancing. One must have feeling to dance, not just connect certain movements together.

Live drumming and dancing keeps us on our toes, and helps us in some way to remember how it may have been long ago in a spontaneous, free world. Maybe for some, that is a frightening feeling, but for many of us, it can be a liberating experience!


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