The first time I knew my daughter Margaret was inside me I was sitting in a theater in Oakland, surrounded by a wall of African drumming. I had taken my parents and then seven-year-old daughter Ciara to a dramatic symposium of dancing and music of the African diaspora. The first performance was a long parade of djembe and congas that began outside. The sound gradually increased until the marchers flowed down the aisles and onto the stage and it felt like we were in a room of drum, in a womb of drum. Like we were at the dawn of time and the end of time and beating along with the heartbeat of the universe. Dramatic I know, but that was how it was.
And then there was inside of me a quiet beating back. I must have been about three weeks pregnant. I didn't have any symptoms yet, of course. But I knew. I placed my hands on my belly. You’re there, I said. Welcome to the drums.
When Margaret was an infant, my teacher DeLisa Branch-Nealy in Berkeley held her as we danced in class. Margaret used to lie down and press her cheek to the floor to feel the drums. When she began to walk she bounced up and down in perfect rhythm. Then we moved to Sacramento and left dance and drums behind. Until this year.
Why have I waited so long to write about Fenix Drum and Dance? It has been seven months from the first time my Margaret and I tried our first class. Since then we've spent almost every Saturday night in the studio and performed in public twice. Now Margaret has decided to do the drum class too. Her favorite is Djembe. She wants one for Christmas.
Margaret has no fear in dancing and drumming. She jumps into the circle at the end of class for extemporaneous solo numbers. She loves performing on stage. Now she loves drums as well. She sits in a circle among her classmates, mostly grown-ups, her face fixed in concentration as she learns to slap, bass, tone. Last Saturday guest teacher Lansana Kouyate from Guinea taught the class a complex rhythm called Tiruba. She learned how to do the dance in the next hour.
When we go to the studio and enter the drum sound nothing matters but music. Do you understand what that means? Nothing matters but music. That moment when we cross the threshold into the studio is the sweetest moment of my entire week. Anxiety is nothing. It can’t even get through the door. Why haven't I written about this before? Because I wasn't ready yet. Because it feels a lot like church.
Fenix Drum and Dance Company is run by Angela James and her daughter Olivia Yasmin James. Check out the website here. They welcome beginners and have a beautiful way of making sure all ability levels have fun and are challenged at the same time. You should come dance with us. It's a bargain for all you get and you would like it. Bring your son and daughter along too.
When we first started taking class I was looking for some exercise, something to share with my kid, a return to the uplift I remembered from African dance and music. I never expected to receive such a quality education in dance and culture. I never expected to meet so many new friends.
I am grateful to Fenix for bringing my daughter and me together again over drums. Now she begs me to take drum class with her. She holds out her hands and says, Come on Mommy. Welcome to the drums.
That's Margaret in the green head wrap. Thank you so much Miss Angela James for the photo.