Back in the late 1980’s when I was a student at Physical Culture Fitness Studio, there was a Sunday class taught by Kristi Rudolph with live African percussion. That was the most exciting class of the week to take. And, at the time, it was one of the few places drum students (most of whom were white) could come and play along the great African percussionists who were living here. It got to be quite a scene where sometimes there were almost more drummers than dancers (and the rooms always packed). Congas were slowly being replaced with Djembes as THE chosen drum. Eventually the Senior living center across the street filed a city complaint about the “volume of noise that was disturbing to the residents’ well being”. That was the end of that era.
Right around that same time, Kristi moved on and I was chosen to take over the class. As a new teacher, I had very big shoes to fill and needed to find ways to make these classes my own. Because of the trouble with our neighbors, I ended up moving the Sunday class to a much smaller studio in the top of the building what was the Ballard Firehouse night club. A core group of dancing friends helped me decide to not make the class be a drum jam session for aspiring players and focus instead of some of the beautiful acoustic instruments I was just learning about. I had musicians friends who were very happy to experiment with their beloved berimbaus, mbiras and kalimbas, balafon, pandeiro, agogos and smaller hand drums. And our cross-cultural improvisational collaborations began.
I’m remembering all this as I think about the last live session we had in February of this year at our new home in the Taj Yoga Studio. That turned out to be very special. One of my most beloved teachers and friend Won-Ldy Paye made a surprise visit while in town for an artist residency. Few things could have made me happier than to have him there that day. There were students who are brand new to my work, students who had heard of Won-Ldy and some long timers who had danced with him a project we got to be part of for Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition “Long Steps Never Broke a Back” (more on that another time), or when he lived here and taught classes. Some of my favorite musicians to collaborate with were there too. It was a good good day. One that refueled and inspired me and seems all the more important now that all the studio in town are shuttered indefinitely and it is hard to know how long it will be until anything like that is safe to do again.