Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fenix Drum and Dance Company

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.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

An Eight-Year-Old's Workout

I brought Margaret to the doc last week for a check up.

"How many minutes a day does your daughter exercise?" the check-in lady asked me.  Clipboard in hand.

"I don't know.  She's eight years old.  She plays."

"We suggest an hour a day." The check-in lady didn't want any of my lip. I conceded to an hour a day.  Sure.  My baby works out an hour a day. More or less.

On our way out I noticed signs for an obesity prevention workshop for the twelve and under crowd.  You could sign up your kid to spend an hour sitting around a table with a bunch of other kids while an adult talked about exercise.

It's easy for me to be snarky about an obesity workshop for kids because my kids are skinny.  We eat healthy foods most of the time but I'm not one of those no junk food moms.  Not by a looooooong mile. My daughters eat what they do want (within reason) and don't have to eat what they don't want.  It's a simple philosophy that costs me very little by way of parenting effort.

Still, that exercise question bothered me.  How many minutes a day does my little one exercise?  I didn't really know the answer.  I am her mother and I should know the answer to a basic health question.

So I decided to find out.  My husband and teenager are on a five-day backpacking excursion too strenuous for an eight-year-old, so it's just Margaret and me.  Hanging out.  Spending time.

I now know the answer to the exercise question.

On Saturday, we went to Yoga in the park for an hour.  I thought that would be enough exercise until dance class that night, but Margaret disagreed.  We had to go to the local public pool.  We have to go when they are open or else we'll be sad on days when they are closed, she reasoned.  So we went to the pool.  Margaret swam for two hours straight, practicing the butterfly stroke.  Which she kept making me demonstrate for her over and over so that she could see how to do it.  Mommy demonstrating.  Margaret practicing.  Demonstrate.  Practice.  Back and forth across the pool.

"I'm getting ready for the Olympics," she said.

We got home in time to dress for dance and go to the studio.  We take African dance together.  I thought she'd be too tired for a rigorous class, but no.  She practiced and danced like a crazy and then volunteered for a solo. So then I decided to do a solo.  It was a lot of dancing. 

For dinner she wanted McDonald's, so we went for a treat.  We can only go when her sister is out of the house because my teenager gives us such a hard time for eating fast food that it just isn't worth it.  Then we had to watch the Olympic trials before bed.  Margaret likes watching people exercise.

She had her post-Mass Sunday donut this morning, and then insisted on roller blading for two hours (the dog and I trailed after on foot in the flames of her wake). As I write this she's out in the living room jumping around and dance practicing while watching t.v.  In a minute she'll go play Dance Dance on our friend's Wii for an hour.  Or more.

Keeping up is hard to do.
Tomorrow she wants to skate more.  Maybe bike ride.  On Tuesday, she tells me she needs to go swimming again. She also needs to practice shooting baskets so she can be really really good next basketball season.  She needs to practice dance.  She needs to take long walks to practice for her own backpacking trip with her dad.  She needs to needs to needs to be moving.  All the time.

You want to know how many minutes a day Margaret exercises? A million minutes a day.  My daughter exercises a million minutes a day.

I should know.

I'm exhausted.