Drumming with battered women in London

Posted by on 4 Feb, 2014 in Blog, drum circle, women | 0 comments

Back in March 2011, I had an opportunity to work with some of the most incredibly brave women I have ever met in my life. Many of these ladies had been victims of violence for much of their lives and were dealing as well as they could with the physical and mental impact of terrible abuse. We were introduced through the Praxis centre for displaced people in London after it was suggested to me that some of my techniques for promoting wellbeing and relaxation might help. Through the Family Care Project, we came to the conclusion that perhaps a drumming session might be the most beneficial to women affected by these particular issues.

 The group of women meet every week to discuss issues like their health, their emotions and problems they often have with communication here in the UK. It was important to offer activities that these ladies could contribute to themselves and really get involved with. It was crucial to create an environment in which the group could be made to feel as comfortable as possible. We also needed to break down the potential language barriers because levels of English were generally not very high among the women in the group. Helping me with all of this was a local social worker, who does some wonderful work to help women who have suffered a great deal and who still struggle to find any kind of serenity in their day-to-day lives. My feeling was that if we could find a way to get all these ladies involved in a collective process then that would be empowering for them and could help them start to feel better about themselves.

 When it came to hosting the drum session, I have to admit I was very nervous about how the group would respond to my methods and the idea of using drums to promote wellbeing. I was confident that by encouraging these women to get involved with the exercises and take the lead, we could make some positive changes in the way they felt about themselves and we could bring some enjoyment into their lives. We were uncertain of how much information the ladies in the group could really take on-board given that they struggled to understand my instructions. But, in a sense, this made sure that the emphasis of the session was on communicating through the drums and through rhythms, which in the end is what the sessions were intended to focus on.

So, after a tricky morning session, during which there seemed to be a lot of nervous energy and uncertain chatting between the women, we all got progressively more in tune with one another and with the process. From my point of view, the key was to say just a few words at a time and to be clear in my most basic instructions. Initially there seemed to be some resistance and reluctance to start drumming properly and to engage with the process. I realised after a while though that this was probably as much my fault as anyone else’s because I was perhaps a little too keen to direct what was happening. I felt I should try to become an observer rather than an instructor. This approach paid off after a while because when the women were able get in tune with their own bodies and their own thoughts, forgetting all about me and their surroundings, they began to drum away more intently and to enjoy what they were doing.

When I felt that I had a good level of engagement from the women, we decided to start passing around a rhythm with our drums, with each of us having a mallet and our own instrument. After a while the women really began to love their drums and the game. Before long there was a huge amount of energy in the room and it seemed that there was a lot of stress being brought up and expressed through the drums. Positive as this was in a sense, it also resulted in something close to chaos with much more drumming going on than listening. However, it was great to feel such enthusiasm and excitement.

 A lot of what my drumming sessions are all about is being free to make mistakes and I asked members of the group how they felt about that. One response that came back was that while making mistakes can be a source of worry and concern, it could also be fun and even liberating. And that sense of feeling free to do as you wanted without judgement or recrimination seemed particularly important during this session because these women were used to being abused and to feeling a complete lack of control over their own lives and bodies. At that point I said again that it is good to have a circle of women and a space where all the members feel safe as it becomes possible to be playful and to experiment new ways of being: for example making mistakes and laughing at the same time. I noticed that sometimes they were moving the mallet toward each other, having jokes and laughing, in a way that was a bit aggressive. I thought that this could be the result of all the violence they held in their bodies.

 After this game, I went into the rhythms of life. I asked the women to move in the space with those rhythms. When I asked them how they felt during the regimental one, they told me that they felt good and recognised one of them as being like a heartbeat. I found this answer very interesting. How was it possible that they were associating that rhythm with the heart? Was it because this is the rhythm they were most familiar with? Was it because they needed to adapt to this rhythm to survive? Did they identify themselves with that rhythm because they didn’t have any other choice? When I asked how the flowing rhythm made them feel, they said that they felt happy and wanted to dance.

 At that point, I was concerned a bit about the time and I realised it was difficult to have any really in-depth discussions due to the women’s lack of English. So I decided to hold back from asking too many questions even though I was intrigued to know more. After all, the sessions weren’t about me finding out more about these women, they were about these women feeling free enough to express themselves. I told the women to remember a set of rhythms as they were going to drum together and eventually they could use them. I described briefly what we were going to do, introducing other percussions and inviting them to use as many instruments as they wanted. I said that they were free to play as they wanted and to do what they wanted, as this was their time.

 Before we started drumming this time, I asked the group if someone could give me an example of heartbeat. Interestingly, they all tried and created a regimental rhythm. So again I wondered what that could mean. Are these women so repressed, regimented and frustrated that they automatically identify with this rhythm even when they have to connect to their hearts? Or is the sadness in their hearts too painful that they cannot even see it consciously? Is it safer to cling onto the old patterns and not to jump into the unknown?

 As soon as we started to play I felt there was a huge energy in the space. The women didn’t have any problem in having fun! They were really available to play and started moving and dancing round the circle. There was so much heat and energy in the room that I felt almost as if it was going to explode!

 Eventually, I slowed the rhythms right down and played very softly before bringing the drumming to close. I asked the ladies for some feedback and was fascinated by how they responded. For some the novelty of the experience was refreshing and vitalising, while others appreciated the chance to feel like a child again and to have some fun in a complete pressure-free and safe environment. Some members of the group loved to shake their bodies as they so rarely have chance to do others just loved the sensational of beating away rhythmical on their own drum.

 Perhaps the most interesting feedback I received though came from a lady who we’ll just call V. She said that she felt a sense of both weight and lightness in the circle at the same time and that she herself felt a great sense of release. She also said that she felt as if she’d taken part in a ritual where it is fine for anyone to make mistakes and where everyone was equal.

 What I found really amazing was the fact that these women found a way to express their emotional intelligence, despite all the difficulties with the language and the fact that they have been abused and that most of them were carrying severe mental scars. I found their bravery and determination to be fully alive very inspiring. They were curious, open and had a great sense of humour. I just hope that these wonderful women will be able to remember how they felt during my session and that they can take that sense into their everyday lives. I certainly will never forget the experience and I’ve never been more convinced of the benefits that drumming sessions and other group activities like them can bring.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill this in *