Denisa Kraus
The Navigator

Dancers bring a differnt dynamic to the circle.
Photo by Denisa Kraus

Drum Circle Downtown Nanaimo brings people of all ages, skill levels, and interests together to explore themselves both as individuals and a collective through rhythm. With meetings taking place every other Friday, the group is always open to newcomers.

The drum circle started as a leisure event at VIU four years ago and moved downtown to the Nanaimo Association of Community Living (NACL) in 2010.

Gisele Jacob, a drumming teacher and the organizer of the event, says the size of the circle can be  from five to 30 players, and the rhythm styles range from African beats to Hispanic and Caribbean tradition. She says drumming is a universal language that has no barriers.

Originally a trained piano player, she considers herself an artistic person with a strong sense of community life. She says her deep connection to drums comes from her origins.

Gisele Jacob (right) leads the drumming session.
Photo by Denisa Kraus

“I am of Native descent, and when I started drumming, I felt like I woke up,” she says. “I feel  alive and creative. I feel that I can express myself. I fell in love with the drums right from the beginning.”

People come to the circle for various reasons: to practice self-expression and creativity, to socialize, learn a skill, or release stress.

“Drumming changes your emotional patterns,” Jacob says. “When people come here depressed or anxious, drumming sometimes relaxes them.”

Jacob says it is also a creative way to learn using both sides of the brain, hand-eye coordination, and understanding verbal and hand cues. More experienced players can practice polyrhythm—a technique of layering one rhythm on top of another.

“It’s a skill you have to work on,” she says. “You learn to split the brain, not listen to the other rhythms, and concentrate on your own drumming.”

Jacob says drumming can even help resolve relationship conflicts sometimes.

“In the circle, you stop talking and arguing, and start drumming with each other,” Jacob describes the process of bringing harmony by rhythm.

Dustin Shmauder, anthropology student at VIU and one of the regular drummers, joined the circle three years ago out of passion for rhythm and interest in ethnomusicology. He believes that everyone has the ability to add something unique to the group.

“There is a saying that it’s not the drummers who are playing—they’re being played,” he says. “You move outside of yourself, become a part of a collective, of something bigger than just one person and their rhythm.”

Schmauder still remembers his first session with the circle, and the adrenaline rush from improvising with speed and syncopation.

“It is when I push my limits that I feel the most aware, most present,” he says. “It felt so good to have that freedom of expression within such a kind and caring group, I had to come back for more.”

While the circle’s main focus is drumming and experimenting with team play, Jacob is always looking for dancers as well. She says they are a welcome and desirable accompvaniment to the group because they bring a different feel and dynamic to the session.

“When you have a dancer, you stop looking at each other drumming and look  at her. She’s in the middle of the circle. She’s dancing to our rhythm, but we’re drumming to her steps. It becomes syncopated.”

The circle  welcomes anybody who wants to try and see what drumming means to them.

“There is no pressure. No experience is necessary,” Jacob says, adding that extra drums are available to rent for those who are interested in joining the group but don’t have their own equipment. There is a $5 fee, and pre-registration is preferred.

Jacob is also planning to start drumming classes in the near future. She wants to promote the activity and share the skill and experience with a wider community. She says drumming has become such a fundamental part of her life she can’t imagine not playing. “I think I’m going to die with my drums,” she laughs.

The Drum Circle meets in the NACL building on 83 Victoria Cresent. The next sessions will be on October 18 and November 8 at 7:30pm. Suggested donation is $5.