Local Group Creates New Culture With Dance, Drums

On Sunday mornings, parishioners line up at the First Church of Cambridge to make their peace with God.

But Saturday nights are an entirely different story.

Those nights, a diverse bunch—from preps to punks, from belly dancers to baby boomers, from spiritual gurus to people who just want to boogie—comes together for the Earth Drum Council’s biweekly “Drum and Dance” fetes.

Walking through the side doors of the church, the beating of a handful of African drums reverberate in the hallways to a syncopated rhythm. And inside the large wood-floored room, two rows of chairs radiate out from the rhythmic focal point—a huge cylindrical drum, where a bearded man leads the slowly quickening pace of the song.

Young children run and do back flips while a few adults begin stretching. Slowly, dancers gather around the alter of candles and small busts at the center of the room and sway to the dance.

“We’re creating a new culture,” says Morwen Two Feathers, the co-founder of the council along with her husband Jimi. She and the council say they are working against the culture of “use-it-up-and-throw-it-away consumerism.”

According to Morwen, these “drum circles” exist across the country and are meant to be a metaphor for the kind of community that many want both inside and outside the circles.

In the Earth Drum Council, each individual creates a part of a rhythm that guides everyone’s motions in the room by playing drums or dancing. For Morwen, “rhythm is a direct gateway into a realm in which everything is connected to everything else.”

Although each Saturday is somewhat improvised, most of the drummers have been playing together for years. They use auditory cues and visual signals to know when to start and stop, and new members adjust quickly to the cues.

“Everyone feels really great because we’ve done it together,” says Morwen. “We’ve built a community.”

A focal point of building this community is the social part of the dances. Halfway through the evening, participants gather in a circle, introduce themselves, and make announcements about upcoming peace rallies, yoga workshops and art shows.

Nana Underhill and her husband John, relative newcomers to the circle, bring their two young children to Drum and Dance night as a place where their kids can use their minds and blow off some steam. And, Underhill says with a laugh, it “beats the heck out of church.”

Others come to the circle to escape the trappings of the modern world and the staid Massachusetts lifestyle. Katja Esser, an artist from Watertown and a regular for over five years, exuberantly exclaims, “This is as tribal as you can get!” She finds drumming and dancing to be a spiritual experience and describes her dancing as a form of prayer.

Morwen also describes the dance as therapeutic for many participants. Victims of sexual abuse come to her circle to begin to feel comfortable in their bodies again. Others, she says, come in order to free themselves from what they view as an oppressive society.

Beyond the spiritual value of the drum circle, there is also plenty of good old-fashioned flirting. One newcomer hops around a tall, thin belly dancer, charging at her red scarf like a bull.

But in the end, the dancers form a community in which everyone works together to form a vital and energetic dance of colorful, wild movement.

“This is middle America tapping into its own expression,” Two Feathers says.

—Drum and Dance practices are Saturdays at 8 p.m., 11 Garden St.

—Staff writer Stephanie E. Butler can be reached at sbutler@fas.harvard.edu.

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