Dancing, Drumming, and More Recess

There's great depth to the dance of Body Shift, and there's great fun — an infectious playfulness that inspires confidence. From back left, clockwise, Ashley Card, Silva Laukkanen, Susie Angel, Peggy Lamb (holding crutch), Tanya Winters (sitting in front of Angel on wheelchair), Donna Woods (on ground), and Juan Muñoz celebrate their work in ECHO, a performance piece delivered as part of the Sept. 27 Community Art Sunday at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin.

There’s great depth to the dance of Body Shift, and there’s great fun — an infectious playfulness that inspires confidence. From back left, clockwise, Ashley Card, Silva Laukkanen, Susie Angel, Peggy Lamb (holding crutch), Tanya Winters (rising from wheelchair), Donna Woods, and Juan Muñoz celebrate their work in ECHO, performed as part of the Sept. 27 Community Art Sunday at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin.

Recently, after watching children and adults lose their inhibitions during a Community Art Sunday at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin, it occurred to me that I don’t have enough dancing, drumming, hula hooping, gleeful chasing, and chalk-drawing on sidewalks in my life.

It’s been a long time since I played tag at recess. And that’s not good.

I went to the Center for Creative Action on Sept. 27 to watch a mid-afternoon performance from Body Shift, a collaborative, mixed-ability dance project of Forklift Danceworks and VSA Texas. But I arrived early enough to first check out some of the other Community Art Sunday events on tap, primarily creative activities and games for children.

Drum faster! With palms raised, and eyes trained on African drum circle leader Tonya Lyles, 5-year-old Alexander Strong controls the tempo of one particularly upbeat number during the Sept. 27 Community Art Sunday at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin.

With hands raised in conductor-like fashion, and eyes and ears trained on African drum circle leader Tonya Lyles, 5-year-old Alexander Strong controls the tempo of one particularly upbeat number during the Sept. 27 Community Art Sunday at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin.

I was most drawn to an African hand-drumming circle led by Austinite Tonya Lyles. I’ve taken a couple of beginning African drumming classes from Sherry Gingras, who teaches at her Austin Drumz store, and my ears picked up the familiar language of gun and dun (pronounced “goon” and “doon”) from Lyles as she explained the basics of these bass beats to excited children and their parents.

The energy was contagious. My heart thumped hard, in rhythm with Lyles’ words and resounding beats. A thought hit me equally hard: I’m not happy when I’m not in motion. But I’m not talking about the motion of hurriedness. The motion of running errands, for example, and stressing out in traffic, or pacing around the house and flipping through TV channels because I’ve got too much on my mind to sit still.

Six-year-old Jeriah Hill plays a bass drum with confidence as she follows the lead of African drum circle leader Tonya Lyles during the Sept. 27 Community Art Center at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin.

Six-year-old Jeriah Hill plays a bass drum like a pro as she follows the lead of African drum circle leader Tonya Lyles during the Sept. 27 Community Art Center at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin.

I’m talking about the kind of motion I saw, felt, and heard from the toddlers and older children in the drum circle who couldn’t keep their hands, and drum sticks, off the drums placed before them. I’m talking about a joyful, internal motion that manifests physically. As Lyles taught the group rhythms and songs, there was no hesitation from any child, no apparent doubt about whether it was OK to participate, no question of doing it right or wrong.

There was just doing. There was just drumming, wild and fast from the children in the circle, little hands pounding on African drums.

As a kid, I thought drumming was the coolest thing ever. I recall the first time I held drumsticks in my hands, in the mid-1970s. I don’t remember how old I was, maybe 11 or 12, and I don’t remember where I was. Maybe at a friend’s or relative’s house. But somehow, I found myself in front of a drum kit. I timidly tapped out a simplistic rhythm. Drumming was a lot harder than it looked, and my future career with the rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive definitely seemed in jeopardy.

But just touching the snare drum head with my fingers set my heart on fire. This was the kind of motion I craved.

Then there was recess at the little country school I attended on the South Plains of Texas near Lubbock. I lived for recess and the chance, several times a day, to play red rover and baseball and football and tetherball and a gazillion other games my elementary schoolmates and I invented.

My cousin Cynthia and I made up a recess game in which we sat on one end of a wooden seesaw and asked the boys to tie us to the seesaw with their belts. Then (at a certain age now, with aching joints, it’s beyond me how I ever considered this fun), the rodeo was on: The boys repeatedly banged the other end of the seesaw into the gravelly ground, trying to buck us off. And sometimes they did.

So. For the purposes of this blog post, and the safety of children on playgrounds everywhere, I’m not talking about the pursuit of this kind of haphazard motion. But I am talking about the kind of motion that involves spontaneous chases and merry-go-rounds and swing sets and slides, and seesaws, used properly, with a person on each end.

I’m talking about the kind of motion that involves dreaming. On cold, blustery days, of which there are plenty in the Texas Panhandle, my elementary classmates and I took full advantage of the wind. When gusts were blowing 40 mph or higher, we would throw on our coats, take off running across the huge playground, and thrust our jacketed arms above our heads like sails, believing we could fly. I swear, sometimes my feet left the ground.

That’s my kind of motion.

We played and danced, as only elementary school children can, with abandon, and to the music in our heads. But somewhere along the way this freedom of movement stopped, probably right around the first junior high dance where everybody stood against the gym wall, not quite sure how to dance to ZZ Top.

All of which brings me back to Body Shift, the mixed-ability dance project that includes improvisation classes, performance workshops, and choreography labs. The more I talk about Body Shift, and the involvement of my partner, Donna, the more I realize how many Austinites either haven’t heard of Body Shift and/or don’t understand it.

Some people seem uncomfortable talking about mixed-ability dance, which brings together people of all abilities and disabilities. There’s nothing charitable about Body Shift dancing, as in the misguided notion from some that able-bodied dancers are sacrificing their time out of kindness to be a part of this program.

One crutch, two walking sticks, and three Body Shift dancers — from right, clockwise, Silva Laukkanen, Donna Woods, and Peggy Lamb — equals tremendous motion during the Sept. 27 ECHO performance.

One crutch, two walking sticks, and three Body Shift dancers — from right, clockwise, Silva Laukkanen, Donna Woods, and Peggy Lamb — equals tremendous motion during the Sept. 27 ECHO performance.

My observation is this: Body Shift attracts people of all abilities who want to move with integrity, with an honesty of how one’s body works in any given moment and setting. Some people come to Body Shift with extensive dance experience, others come with none. But together, the participants generate tremendous motion, whether they’re dancing solo, in a duet, or in a group. At other times, the dancers generate motion by starting from stillness, then gradually moving a toe or a finger or a leg or an arm or blinking an eyelid, and then returning to stillness.

Body Shift is not fast motion for the sake of fast, or slow motion for the sake of slow. It’s simply motion, at any speed, played out on a landscape of inclusivity for every body. There’s great depth to this dance, and there’s great fun — an infectious playfulness that inspires confidence.

VSA Texas and Forklift Danceworks offer classes for all ages and levels, including Body Shift’s monthly mixed-ability Elements of Dance classes (details at www.bodyshift.org) and the Leaps & Bounds program (details at http://forkliftdanceworks.org/leaps-bounds) that partners with Austin schools to bring creative movement to classrooms.

If you want to get moving, these are great places to start.

Some children, suddenly inspired and curious, couldn't help but wander into the dance space of Body Shift’s Sept. 27 ECHO performance. From back right, counterclockwise, Peggy Lamb and Ashley Card (with arms raised), Tanya Winters, Susie Angel (obscured, in wheelchair), and Juan Muñoz perform.

Some children, pulled by curiosity, couldn’t help but wander into the dance space of Body Shift’s Sept. 27 ECHO performance at the Center for Creative Action in East Austin. From back, right to left, Peggy Lamb and Ashley Card (with arms raised), Tanya Winters, Susie Angel (obscured, in wheelchair), and Juan Muñoz perform.

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