Alexis, Kathryn & Brooks Creedy Sunsetting on Nokomis Beach
By Kathryn B. Creedy
Sunset on the Gulf Coast is usually spectacular during the high, wide and handsome days of a Florida winter. But this year, as the New Year dawned, my daughters and I experienced a unique sunset event that harkened back to primeval days when we joined a Drum Circle at Florida’s Nokomis Beach on the Gulf Coast.
Our hosts for the weekend mentioned a cool family event, which occurs each Wednesday and Saturday at sunset at their local beach. I had no idea what to expect when they said there were a lot of drummers on the beach but I was very intrigued.
The Nokomis Drum Circle threw me back millennia. Despite the modern trappings surrounding me, I felt as if I were part of a pre-Colombian sun worshiping ceremony. January 3, 2015, was unique, however, with a simultaneous sunset and full moonrise as the drums beat a steady rhythm you could feel through the sand.
Drummers were all ages and all abilities from master drummers to people with simple tambourines. The audience was already large when we arrived having set up hundreds of chairs that completed the circle. Near the dunes, sat 25 to 30 drummers, men, women, young and old. Opposite were the sea and the sinking sun under a clear blue sky.
In the middle of the circle was a white opaque ball, surrounded at its base with fairy lights and palm leaves. Dozens of dancers swayed to the beat in both modern interpretive styles and traditional belly dancing as they moved around the circle.
Was this what Florida’s Indians did in the earliest days of this peninsula, I asked myself as I looked around. Dancers weaved in and out of the circle some with children in tow like modern-day pied pipers. Some of the dancers had crafted elaborate wing-like costumes and seemed to float, billowing in the gentle breeze, as they made their way around the circle looking like giant, colorful butterflies.
This is so primitive, I thought, as primal as a heartbeat. But it drew me in with the magnetism that draws many of us to the sea. I later found out that the allusion to pagan rituals is no accident since the Nokomis Beach Drum Circle was founded as just that. While the word pagan comes with baggage typical of the unfamiliar, at its core, it is simply a reverence for the natural world and seeing a divine presence in that world. As an environmentalist and one who cleans the beach every day on my two-mile walk, I related to that. Even so, drum circles may not have anything to do with pagan worship but can just be a group of people spontaneously creating music on drums and other percussion instruments.
It turns out the 20-plus-year-old Nokomis Beach Drum Circle is far from unique. Indeed, there are many such circles in Florida both beachside and inland and they can be found at The Primal Connection or elsewhere around the world at the Drum Circle Network. The Nokomis circle is an informal affair, according to the unofficial liaison between the County and the group, Frank Alexander. All you have to do is show up with a percussion instrument. If you go he suggested getting there an hour and a half before sunset.
The audience sat contentedly tapping hands on legs or bare feet in the sugary white sand typical of many Gulf beaches. They dined al fresco from the picnic baskets filled with typical beach picnic fare along with such libations as wine, beer and soda. It is a casual affair with few rules and is clearly a tradition in this small community, one that continues to resonate with residents and visitors alike.
As the drummers reached one of many crescendos, the light visibly softened signaling that duskish time just before sunset. Necks craned to watch the sun sink in the Western sky as the beat climbed. Many left the circle to stand at water’s edge to watch it descend into the cool, calm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The sky turned from blue to yellow to a fiery orange red. Then, inside the circle a single individual joined the dancers and faced west. He lifted a conch shell to his lips and blew a single long note to mark sunset. He repeated this to the south, east and north then returned to his place among the drummers. Nearby, a dancer posed at water’s edge, the sun, the sea and a sailboat marking her backdrop.
Slowly, a full moon appeared veiled in gossamer clouds as it ascended in the Eastern sky. Drummers had quickened their pace to the setting sun and were now beating a calmer percussion. In the center of the ring, the opaque ball changed colors to the many hues of blue, green and red, pink, orange and yellow. Little girls stood mesmerized by this central focal point designed to replace the bonfire, which lit the Drum Circle in its early days. They gingerly touched the ball quickly drawing back their tiny fingers, clearly expecting it to be hot. They then leaned over, their small hands becoming colorful shadows as the ball cast its changing glow.
As the moon emerged from its cloudy veil, dancers donned lit hula hoops, which provided a colorful counterpoint to the gathering dark. The swirling hoops created patterned lights dancing out from the bodies swaying to the beat.
Revelers stay for hours through the night. As it darkened, however, we headed home. Walking down the beach, the sounds of the drums followed us as stars emerged from the inky black sky.
Beat on the Beach slideshow with soundtrack