Not too long ago if you'd ask me if I had rhythm, I would have laughed heartily and said, "No!" To say that I had no rhythm was like saying the sky on a bright, sunny day is blue. To me, it was an observable fact. All you had to do was watch me try to dance. My body jerked this way and that way. It was worse than the way Blake Shelton dances. At least his dance moves are coordinated with the music. My body seemed to move to a tune all of its own.
My lack of rhythm was so embarrassing that my partner once stood me in front of a full-length mirror and told me to practice snapping my fingers to a song. I remember standing in front of the mirror, snapping my fingers. I could not find the beat. My partner generously found it for me and snapped her fingers over and over. No matter how hard I tried, I could not snap my fingers at the same rate. When I looked in the mirror, I saw my body was taut, and my face looked pained. I gave up after just a few minutes. It was just too hard, and it seemed hopeless. I did not possess rhythm, so why would I continue to try to change my herky-jerky dance? I bought the belief that I had no rhythm hook, line, and sinker. I stopped dancing.
Fifteen years later, I attended a drumming circle run by Mary Oliver and Reccia Jobe. I felt nervous about attending because I did not want to embarrass myself. I had no idea how I would participate since I didn't have any rhythm. I wanted to join in the drumming circle because I was interested in learning more about how rhythmic activities can assist clients in healing. Mary made drumming easy. She gave us words to say and told us to beat out the words on the drum. I could do that, I thought, I like words. I beat out the words Mary gave us. I had to mouth the words as I beat them on the drum to keep the beat. It took a lot of concentration for me to stay on the beat, but I could do it. For that moment, I had rhythm.
During the drumming circle, Mary said we all possess the ability to have rhythm because we have rhythm inside of us. She gave an example of how our hearts beat out a steady rhythm inside of us. I reflected on how I was very connected to the rhythms in the natural world, the seasons, the beginning and end of days, birth and death, but I was not as connected to the rhythms in my body. That experience did not convince me that I had any rhythm. Instead, I left feeling that I could produce rhythm as long as I used words.
Armed with this knowledge, I ventured out to a few drumming circles and used drums with more with my clients. I researched the benefits of rhythm and discovered that rhythm develops cross brain connections between the left and right hemispheres and connections between the lower regions of the brain and the neocortex. Rhythm is also essential to learning, processing, healing, feeling calm, and deeply connecting with yourself and others.
Along the way, I discovered body percussion (using your body as a drum). I was fascinated by all the different sounds a person could make with their body. I engaged clients in body drumming, even though I could not do the rhythms myself. One day, a client burst into fits of laughter at my inability to coordinate my hands and feet. That was it, I told myself, you are going to learn how to do this.
That night I went home, and I practiced stomp, clap, stomp, stomp, clap over and over. Hours passed, and I still could not do the rhythm. My feet wanted to stomp three or four times, not once or twice, and my hands had a mind of their own. It seemed to me that I would never be able to do it. My body did not understand. I did not give up, however. After more hours of practice, I crawled into bed, feeling exhausted and defeated. The next morning, I tried again. This time my body did all 4 of the steps correctly, stomp, clap, stomp, stomp, clap. I was beaming! After a few more tries, it began to sound like drumming. I could do rhythm without words! Now, this may seem like a small accomplishment, but for me, it was the equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest, and it opened the door to a bigger world. I began to find rhythms everywhere. My feet danced down the hallways at work, and I did body drumming every chance I got.
How did this happen? What changed? Was I really arrhythmic to begin with? How much of my lack of rhythm was due to my belief that I had no rhythm? Learning from Mary Oliver that we all have rhythm inside of us provided me with a new paradigm. It offered me a new perspective on my abilities. No longer did I believe 100% that I had no rhythm. Opening up the possibility that I could be rhythmic, allowed me to continue to try and not to give up, despite the difficulties I was experiencing.
Now, I can do the movements in body percussion with some fluidity. It takes my whole brain to do it, and it takes a while for me to learn it. However, once I learn the movements, it comes with ease. I am glad I persisted and discovered that I have rhythm because it brings my heart so much joy. I hope that all the people who believe they have no rhythm will find that they too have rhythm buried deep down within them and experience the joy that having rhythm brings.