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White Girl, No Rhythm

Jane Cloete, December 2002

It began as a dare. ‘You have rhythm. I can prove it.’ Catherine Welsh founder of Drumming SA made the challenge. My pleas of ‘white girl, no rhythm,’ only goaded her more. ‘I’ll see you on Tuesday – and be prepared for a life-changing experience,’ she grinned.

I was convinced I’d be drumming with bath-fearing hippies in a smoky, narcotic den. So as I sat, djembe between my legs and a dubious expression on my face, I was almost disappointed to find myself in a bright, airy room, between a young primary school teacher and a 50-plus accountant.

‘I know there are a couple of you here today who are convinced you have no rhythm,’ began Catherine, ‘but I promise that it is intrinsically within each of us. We spend months listening to the dum dum of our mother’s heart beat, so by the time you are born, this natural rhythm is imprinted in your nervous system. The problem with our society is that we are almost totally removed from our natural rhythms: in our high- stress and high-tech lives we are constantly bombarded by artificial rhythms – from mobile phones, TVs, microwaves etcetera.

But can I get in touch with that rhythm again? I’m the one with the two left feet and the paint-peeling singing abilities. According to Catherine, you just have to give yourself permission to let go. This is a good time to mention that I am a control freak. Letting go is not a specialty.

We started with a series of simple West African rhythms and rapidly progressed to more complicated pieces. I couldn’t believe how quickly the rhythms became easy, and as the day progressed I could actually feel a shift in my body. Or in my head really. The moment that I stopped counting in my head and allowed my body to take over, the ‘1,2,3’ or ‘left, left, right’, became ‘dum, dum, thwack’. We were making music. Grins were shot across the room as the newbies got the difficult rhythm right and sympathetic grimaces when you lost the beat. It didn’t seem to matter if this was your first or 40th drumming experience; we were all just having fun. A lot of it at that.

As much as I loathe being proven wrong, Catherine showed me, the school teacher, the accountant and the rest of the motley crew that made up that workshop, that drumming transcends all boundaries – even those created by white girls with no rhythm.

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