Through the Eyes Of a Drummer
interview with Dr. Richard Ries
Little hands played upon the drum. Their whiteness contrasts the teacher's dark skinned hands. Silas King, a master at his craft, has heart and soul in his hands, and in his playing. He wanted to teach this golden-red haired boy the secrets of the drum. I remember them in the corner of the studio room playing, chanting, and drum talking. Soon the boy with the bright blue eyes would join him on stage, and even on a float in a parade. Wearing a gold glittery outfit with a cummerbund, he must have caught his own heart on fire, for he never stopped playing the drum.
That little boy is now grown. He is my son, Dr. Richard Ries, sometimes called "Miko." He has accompanied me many times while I’ve belly danced. He has also performed with numerous other dancers from New York to Hawai’i. Now he is the President of the Middle Eastern Dance Artists of Hawai’i, as well as a doctor of psychology who specializes in helping people with trauma and PTSD. He lives in Honolulu.
So I asked him:
Meredith: What does Belly Dancing look like through the eyes of a drummer? Even more interesting...through the eyes of a psychologist-drummer? Here is what he said:
Richard: I look at the craft of drumming as one of creating order out of nothingness, through discipline or spontaneity—depending upon the circumstance. Each sound a percussionist generates has a relationship to the next sound, and to the silence in-between. Any two sounds and their spaces divide time. In rhythm, the division makes sense (dividing time equally), or breaks down sense, offering surprise. But essentially it is about evenness and expectation. There is something existentially bold about being one with the drum. You either are creating structure with improvisation, bringing yourself into “solo”, proclaiming the beat, often in exchange with a dancer… or you are reviving, as if incanting, rhythms that are echoes… thousands of years old.
Meredith: Do you see a relationship between drumming, dancing, and healing?
Richard: From the eyes of a drummer (or at least from my eyes), belly dancing is at once a tender and fleeting expression of carnal being, and beauty against the backdrop of our vast, ethereal cosmos, as well as a bearer of legacy.
Much healing may come from the dance, as with the drum. Old wounds decide that they miss playfulness and wish to try again. Confidence yearning to come free- takes first steps. A return to truth is made possible through the portals of music and dance.
There is both the new and the ancient, the self of the dancer and the ways she or he is part of a collective. As a dancer responds to my rhythms we are joined with something that crosses time, and as deep and heavy as this sounds… our job is to play. To innovate and enjoy in relationship to one another and the music, costume and setting. We invite a magic into the moment and feel through ourselves, through each other, reaching full-hearted for the tenderest and most perfect grace that the moment offers. Whether attained or not, the reaching is, itself, where the soul opens!
Meredith: Here are some suggestions for enhancing a drum solo.
· Learn percussive/ sharp moves to accentuate highlighted drum beats
· Become familiar with different rhythms (See the article by Rachel Allen called Rhythms Reference Sheet in Belydance Superstars magazine)
· Practice drops, lifts, pops, and other isolations to add variety
· Alternate fast and slow rhythms
· Practice precise movements of your hips in every possible direction
· Use snaky smooth moves in between shimmies
· Remember to use your eyes and hands as accents and directors of where the action is happening
· Move around, as well as staying in one spot
· Be playful and serious
· Catch the repeats..the rifts
· Sometimes answer the drummer, or have him/her answer you
· Play your zills if you wish
· Practice with the drummer if possible
Thank You Richard for your inspiring words and insights.