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

 
FESTIVAL FIREDANCE 2001
PLACE SANTA CRUZ, CA
DATE August 16-19, 2001

Santa Cruz Mountains, August 16-19, 2001

Over 300 people gathered from around the globe to once again create the magical container of Firedance. For those unfamiliar with the basic structure of Firedance, you might begin by reading my report on last year's festival at:
http://tcd.freehosting.net/djembemande/firedance2000.html

The feeling of family and homecoming was strong as we arrived and rejoined the many rich connections formed the previous year. The diversity of spiritual paths and religious backgrounds represented again provided a strong foundation for the collective magic which was to become so present. By the end of the opening night's circle, one woman (who had arrived thinking she was coming to a drumming camp!) was so profoundly moved by the pervasive love, acceptance and support that she delightedly expressed a new understanding and appreciation of other people's beliefs and practices. What a wonderful blessing to be in a multi-denominational space where we are reminded that there is no "Us" and "Them" - we are all US!

Firedance 2001 built on last year's event in a number of ways - the organizers have obviously put a great deal of thought into refining the festival. The already good food got even better. "Guardian Angels" appeared along the forest pathways the first night (with fluorescent halos!) to guide people as they made their way to the fire. There were custom-made extra-tall tiki torches in the fire circle for more light. At one point a big log fell out of the fire, and within seconds someone arrived wearing asbestos gloves to scoop it up! I'm sure that many people first arrive expecting little more than a bunch of wild people around a fire, but careful planning and attention to detail were the norm. There is even a Children's Program and Child Care.

A number of new elements appeared this year, including:

  • The Early FireBird program, held over the three days preceding the main festival, provided an opportunity for those who wanted to connect more deeply with the Firedance community. The Council and Elders presented a number of 1/2 day intensive workshops.
  • Acoustic music jams and circle dances in the Merchants' Field.
  • A Rattle Temple, where people were guided in creating their own magical tools for use around the fire.
  • The Mask Transformation Cave for creating sacred masks - and facilitators to help guide participants in the art of Transformational Mask Magic at the fire.
  • The Portal Gate near the dining hall - a sacred space for participants to transform the mundane and enter the magical world of Firedance.
  • A second, Quiet Fire was added well away from the main fire circle near a beautiful casbah-style tent with pillows, soft lighting and wonderful carpets - The Snuggler's Lounge Cafe. This fire served as a "bardic circle," for heart chants and songs, storytelling and sharing - and at night until sunrise a place to go to warm up and have a coffee, tea, or bowl of soup. During the day, people gathered here to offer, or receive healing arts like massage or Reiki.

In true community fashion, there were a number of special moments which were not planned by the organizers. Firedance 2001 included a handfasting, a rites of passage - even an opportunity to participate in a Grail ritual. Firedance attendees put on spontaneous fire twirling performances, offered various healing and massage forms, set up areas for face painting and magical adornment, filled the sky with clouds of soap bubbles - someone even arranged for a spectacular meteor shower!

The main focus of the festival is, of course, the nightly ceremonial Firedance from approximately 11pm to dawn. The various workshops on sacred drumming, ecstatic dance, transformational chanting and toning and group ritual served to guide people into ever deeper experiences each night. Those teaching the various workshops consistently exhibited clarity and specificity, combined with lightness and humor, as they delivered core Firedance principles, ideas and techniques through their chosen topics.

The fire circle itself was enhanced by the addition of "the pyramid" - a triangle shaped area directly in front of the drummers where dancers were invited to linger from their orbits around the fire. The intensity of the drumming in that spot combined with the dancers' already deep trance work to trigger many a profoundly ecstatic moment! I saw a number of people circling the fire doing Pranayama (breath-work) this year, weaving among the many dancers moving in trance, mirroring each other and playing spontaneously. Some of the wildest 6/8 grooves I've have ever heard in a community drumming situation developed - and provided the foundation for a couple of very intense Agbekor bell jams!

Kali herself manifested in the circle at one point, and the Phoenix appeared on the last night to die in the flames and be reborn. The addition of the mask work added yet another layer of inspiration to each night's adventures. The wonderful variety of chants and invocations of spirit were ever unfolding, combining this year with an occasional expression of "shadow work". In testament to the power of the Firedance process, many new chants were created spontaneously and evolved into inspirational multi-part harmonies. In addition to the many sacred moments shared in and out of the circle, there were many of lightness, humor and good fun.

Each morning as we greeted the sunrise with blessings and anointing, there were many faces streaming with tears of joy. I have fond memories of drifting around during the late afternoons in a soft, semi-hallucinatory, simultaneously exhausted AND high energy state - and saying "Good Morning!" to friends at 6pm!

It has occurred to me that part of what makes the Firedance experience so powerful is that it is not a Festival run by 20 or 30 "leaders" for 300 participants. It's more like a family reunion of 300 bright, shining stars. The high percentage of creative, intelligent and widely experienced people in this community is nothing short of remarkable. All joining together to celebrate spirit, nurture, contribute to, and learn from each other.

And that was just the first part of the joy! The organizers wisely modified this year's schedule so that we didn't have to leave the site until Monday morning. Sunday was spent relaxing, snacking, sharing, helping with the cleanup process ...and preparing for Afterglow!

The Afterglow and Trance-Formance Week ran from Monday August 20, through Saturday, August 25. Approximately 35 people from Firedance stayed together in a campground just outside of Santa Cruz. In addition to resting up, sharing stories and decompressing a bit from the Firedance weekend, this group met with many of the Firedance Council and Elders to discuss and vision the future of the Firedance Festival and other Firedance events.

On Wednesday we performed and paraded through downtown Santa Cruz to bring our magic to the people who were invited to join us that evening for a public fire circle at the beach, as well as to be a part of the Firedance Trance-Formance. The jam that night was attended by about 100 locals and we had a great time!

The Firedance Trance-Formance was a special performance show, held Thursday night at the Veteran's Hall in downtown Santa Cruz. In addition to musical performances by many talented Firedance participants, Magnus also presented excerpts from his Las Vegas magic show. Following this, we held an 'indoor version' of Firedance. The Santa Cruz drum and dance community turned out in force - at 300 people, we had a packed house! The event went really well, and demonstrated that the "technology" of Firedance is transferrable and easy to learn! The energy was SO strong that we remained oblivious (for the most part!) of the unexpected, pounding techno dance music pulsing up through the floor from another room below us! The shared intention and focus of all present was really strong.

The Firedance experience is simply something not to be missed.

For on-going information about the FIREDANCE Festival, there is a Firedance discussion group and archives available at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/firedance_discussion/join

Or, simply visit the website - http://www.firedance.org

See you in 2002 - remember: "The Ritual Continues!"

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