Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision on 08/02/2002)

 
FESTIVAL FIREDANCE 2000
PLACE SANTA CRUZ, CA
DATE AUGUST 17-20, 2000

The festival took place in the mountains near Santa Cruz, CA and was attended by approximately 300 drummers and dancers from all across the United States, as well as participants from Australia, Poland, Israel, and Canada. Experiential workshops on drumming, sacred dance, chanting, exploring sacred space, body art and community ritual were presented during the day. These prepared and encouraged people toward the central focus of the weekend - the 11pm to sunrise dances around the fire.

The shared intention was to create a container for spiritual community and individual magical work. The attendees came from many different and diverse paths - American Indian, Wicca, Judaism, High Magic, Sufism, Christianity, Krishna, Candomble and more. Firedance 2000 has its roots in a style of fire circle celebration that has been evolving for well over a decade at magical drum and dance events held on the North-East Coast.

The Firedance began each night as the celebrants silently entered through a hand-crafted bamboo portal/gate into a large outdoor ceremonial area which was intended only for transformational work. The organizers requested that drugs, alcohol or tobacco stay out of this area. People were encouraged to set up their personal "nests" outside the circle for times when they might want to relax or socialize. A clear intention was created for sacred space, visually reinforced by the prayer flags which each participant created and hung on the cord demarking the outer perimeter.

Every individual was warmly greeted in a sacred and respectful way, offered smudging with sage, and made welcome - even the late arrivals! The Four Directions were called, the fire was lit to the accompaniment of invocational songs, and the circle of dancers began to move clockwise around the fire. As the singing swelled and harmonies developed, the dunun players began a simple heartbeat which slowly evolved into the first rhythm.

There were a number of very talented drummers there, and the development of each new rhythm was a fascinating process to be a part of. In contrast to other circles I have played in, the sacred space of the event created a strong impetus for listening and musicality. Some DEEP funky rhythms were birthed as the night stretched out. There were lots of dun - sangba - kenkeni players! People playing bells and woodblocks provided the intricate, high-pitched trance lines. Don't think for a minute that the drumming was limited only to slow or shamanic rhythms. Some very spacey 6/8 pieces unfolded, as did some high energy djembe burners! We were also blessed to have an extremely talented doumbek and frame drum player in our midst.. and the drummers rountinely had the sensitivity to play softly enough for that voice to be easily heard. All this without any overt facilitation of the players!

Once the singing began to gradually fade away, the natural tendency to pick up the tempo was indulged and the trance dancers began to move in earnest. The structure of the dance circle allowed the more energized and ecstatic dancers to orbit rapidly near the fire, while those in more contemplative or meditative states moved slowly near the outer edge. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the vast array of ceremonial garb and body adornments that people wore to the circle, no doubt encouraged by a group agreement that no cameras would be present.

Eventually the first rhythm and energy peaked and the drumming was either called to break, or gently faded out. For a few minutes, the group continued to circle in silence, listening to the wind, breathing deeply, whispering soft prayers. Occasionally some didge players added their deep sonic vibration; at other moments a harpist playing shimmering melody lines.

Then, in dramatic style, someone would share a quotation, prose or poetry - beautiful invocations of spirit. I noticed that people largely avoided direct reference to their personal deities, preferring to share words and thoughts inclusive and inspirational to all present. All the while, a sense of continuity was maintained by people who were circling on the outer "rattle track", softly playing rattles and shakers.

Soon the process began again as someone started up an new chant or song, the drummers began to build a new rhythm and the energy began to rise again. This went on in ever deepening and ever more energizing cycles until sunrise. I was amazed that we just kept right on dancing, singing and drumming until nearly 8:30 am when the sun actually peeked over the ridge above us. When we finally stopped the stillness, beauty and power of the moment was incredible! The empowerment and spirit present in the circle clearly carried people far beyond the normal need for rest - we did this 3 nights in a row! I'd be lying if I said I wasn't physically tired Sunday night, but I was and am energized in ways I haven't felt for far too long.

As we drummed through the night, smiling people appeared to feed us bits of fruit and sweets and to provide drink. This is in marked contrast to so many parties or events I have performed at where the drummers were taken for granted to the degree that no one saved us any food! The appreciation the dancers displayed through such simple actions is just one example of the profound sense of community which quickly developed in a group which had no prior experience together.

Drumming, dancing and singing under the full moon and stars until we greeted the sun was so transformational! I feel honored and elated to have been a part of something which promises to become (continue?) a tradition of our own. The frictionless sharing of sacred space by people from many different spiritual paths was encouraging and empowering to say the least. Of course many more special experiences took place outside the fire circle - performances, a vendor's area with many beautiful treasures, a musical procession of bells and frame drums - and the spectacular location.

What a blessing to be able to drum in service to 150 people moving in trance, each doing their own inner magical work. The looks on their faces told the tale.

You can go to www.Firedance2000.com and see the advance info from this year's event, including the large line-up of talented teachers and facilitator's.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to plan to become part of next year's festival!!
Michael Wall
 

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