Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Invitation to the Dance: Day 3

Our third day of life lived and witnessed at a level far beyond the daily round. A morning of drumming and xylophone classes, an afternoon of reviewing all drum, bell and rattle parts, all six dance moves, for the Bobobo music and dance. Someone stumbling into my book about Orff Schulwerk titled Play, Sing & Dance would most likely say, “Well, duh!!!” The African way of learning all the parts and being able to switch between them is now also “the Orff way” and it’s a whole different paradigm of music education than the specialist approach. So at the end of the class, half the class played the instruments and the other half danced. And then what? Switch!

And in another brilliant idea practiced in good Orff —or any kind of— classes was to have the dance teachers drop out and one of the students step forward. When it was my group’s turn to dance and no one stepped forward, I took the lead. I’m certainly not known for being shy in group settings like these, but I had two reasons to be so. First, I was still nursing my pulled calf muscle and was worried about re-injury. Secondly, the most ubiquitous dance move in this area, the one we’re always asked to try when the performing dancers pull us up out of our seats, is completely foreign to my body’s nerve pathways. The eye sees it and sends signals down to the muscles, who respond, “Huh???”

But with the energy of drums in my feet and a mysterious lightness and looseness, I stepped up to the role, invoked James Brown and had a rollicking good time. Afterwards, when both Kofi and his oldest daughter (one of the dance instructors) complemented me on my dancing, I was beaming with pride. Now those were not complements to take lightly. And speaking of lightly, I felt lighter in my body having gotten out of my head (spending a lot of time there lately!) and the world was renewed.

I once read a story about someone who asked a villager what he thought of the new chief. He replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him dance yet.” It’s hard to hide your character out on the dance floor.

Near the end of another three-hour performance, when the class got up to dance and approached the 50 plus musicians, the chills up my spine were electric and the tears starting to flow. As we approached the music, the vibrations entered every cell in my body and I was lifted up into the pure world of Spirit. There’s no earthly reason why these groups we’ve seen can play and dance and sing as long and hard as they do without getting exhausted. But they do. And I believe that this music, crafted over centuries, continually developing and responding what’s going on in the community, played on drums made through ritual offerings to trees and animals so that their voices will join the conversation, is a prayer 10,000 times more powerful than mouthed words asking for a sled for Christmas, a prayer answered in each beat of the drum and step of the foot, lifting the players up in a habitual visit from Spirit. We read scientific studies about the power of music for Alzheimer’s patients and such and think we’ve discovered some late-breaking news, while these extraordinary communities are maintaining an unbroken life where music is at the center of the whole deal. I’m impressed.

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