Building Character With Beats

Building Character With Beats

By Phil Hood Published December 1, 2009

Dancing Drum is the passion and career of Steve Campbell and Lindsay Rust, musicians, teachers and community drummers from Santa Barbara. In the past year, they've gone around the world leading drum circles, created unique drumming education programs for kids in inner cities, performed at the Percussive Art Society and debuted a new line of Signature Series drums from Tycoon Percussion. We interviewed them this past week via email.

Steve Campbell, 37; Lindsay Rust, 35

Dancing Drum

Years in business: 
7.5 years

Tell us how you first got involved in turning your musical experiences into teaching and facilitation, and your unique mission?
Dancing Drum's mission is to educate, entertain, and inspire people of all ages through inclusive, interactive drumming experiences. Since 2002, we've worked in a wide variety of settings from education to the corporate world to bring drumming to all kinds of people. An important part of our mission is to make music accessible, to involve people in the experience of creating a rhythm even if they think they can't, and get people excited about drumming, both as participants and as an audience.

Our separate paths converged in Santa Barbara in 2002, when we met and found that we had some major inspirations in common: music, drumming, dance, education, and world travel. We decided that together we could create a new experience for people that would incorporate all of these things. Our first gigs actually were at the Santa Barbara Zoo, where we did a summer series of interactive drumming performances for zoo attendees. That summer, we saw how universal the appeal of drumming was across all ages and demographics - we had grandparents and toddlers, people from all over the world, moms, dads, kids, and everyone else jamming with us onstage, smiling, and having a blast! This experience inspired us to develop our programs to reach out to more and more people, especially under-served communities and schools.

What are all the educational services that Dancing Drum offers now at the Rhythm and Art Center

Currently, we run our Community Drum Ensemble (CDE) program at the center. CDE is an inclusive, performance-based program for schools, music stores, and community centers designed to build community through drumming. There are no try-outs or auditions to participate, only a requirement that participants show up for classes and do their best to learn the arrangements for the final performance. Like a drum circle, there are plenty of opportunities for improvisation and creativity within the structure of the music, and like a percussion ensemble, there’s a solid musical foundation supporting the groove. So, CDE kind of bridges the gap between drum circles and more formal percussion ensembles. It’s a fun experience for participants, especially since all of our CDE sessions end with a public performance somewhere in the community – at a music club, a festival or parade.

With the publication of our newest book, Community Drum Ensemble: Volume 1, we're beginning to focus more on training others how to create and direct their own drum performance groups at schools, music stores, and community centers. The Dancing Drum Rhythm & Art Center is also the production studio for our publications. We do all of our video, audio, writing, rehearsal, and design work there. Our first two educational publications Drumming Up Character and Community Drum Ensemble, Volume 1 were produced at the center, and we have several more publications in the works.

What about when you travel and perform clinics or events. How is that different than your educational work at home? 

We are on the road right now, touring through schools, conferences, and drum shops in about 7 different states. Touring brings Dancing Drum to a whole new audience, and it’s exciting to meet new people who want use our programs at their schools, music stores, and community centers. It is also a great learning experience for us to see what’s happening with drumming and education in different parts of the country.

Most of our education programs are happening at elementary and middle schools throughout the United States. We currently offer a couple of different educational standards-based programs, Community Drum Ensemble, Drumming Up Character, and Drumming Up World MusicWe deliver these programs to schools through Interactive Performances, Artist-in-Residency, Workshop-to-Performance, and/or Teacher Trainings.

In Santa Barbara, we perform for and work with many schools and people that have see us develop and grow over the last seven years. It’s important for us to offer new programs for our local community and not continue to repeat the same programs year after year. Santa Barbara is the place where we cultivate our ideas, implement them in our local schools and community, evaluate their effectiveness, make changes if needed, and then go out and present these programs and publications to the world.

You have some very interesting youth programs. How did the "Hip-Hop character building" program come about? 

We developed Drumming Up Character several years ago when the United Way asked us to put together a summer program for under-served youth that would combine character education with music. We decided that, for the kids to embrace the program, it needed to be "cool" and the beats needed to sound powerful and urban, like hip-hop music. We took some of the character traits, like Respect, Responsibility, and Trustworthiness, and wrote "character raps", character rhythms, and choreographed dances for each trait. The program includes 10 characters, each with their own rhythm, rap, and dance. That first summer, we debuted the program with about 500 kids, and they loved it! Since then, we've published a curriculum book for schools to implement this program, and we've had a lot of great feedback from teachers and principals who say that Drumming Up Character engages their students like no other character education program they've seen.

As a performer what's the biggest difference between performing for adults and performing for kids. 

Kids get so excited and they can't wait to get their hands on the drums. Some adults are like kids in that way, but many need more encouragement to participate in the drumming. We find that lots of adults have been told at some point in their lives that they don't have rhythm or they don’t have musical talent and they carry this criticism with them throughout their lives. It is a highly rewarding experience to see these adults discovering during our programs that they do have rhythm, and they CAN play music. Whether it’s releasing the stresses of daily life or giving students an outlet to channel their seemingly boundless energy at school, drumming is a great way to release physical, mental and emotional energies in a positive, productive and musical way.

Given all your activities, do you still find time for recording and playing out? Are you secretly in a retro new wave band in your off-hours?:) 

Ha ha! Good question...We've been involved in various projects throughout the years, mostly what we'd characterize as Afro-Funk fusion that mixes African-style rhythms on djembes, djun-djuns, congas, and drum kit with a funk rhythm section of bass, guitar, and horns. It is great fun to play and perform in these bands, but they always end up as just side projects. Dancing Drum is a full-time career for us and remains the focus of how we want to bring the world of drumming to the masses.

Santa Barbara Drum Day, 2009

This past couple of years you got into drum design through your affiliation with Tycoon Percussion. How did your djembes and djun-djun's come about. 

We had a fortuitous meeting with Tycoon Percussion shortly after they opened their first US office. At the time, we were looking at options for developing drum packages for schools that would use our recommended set-up of djembes, djun-djuns, and small percussion. Lindsay had some strong connections in West Africa after 2 years working in the Peace Corps there, however we couldn't reconcile ourselves with the idea of importing drums carved from wood taken from unsustainably managed forests. Deforestation is a major problem in that part of the world, leading to desertification, destruction of habitat, and some severe environmental consequences for society. We thought there must be a better way to go about it, and we found a great partner in Tycoon Percussion. We worked with them to create a new line of djembe and djun-djun drums made from sustainably harvested, plantation-farmed wood, designed with the highest standards for authentic sound and feel. We couldn't be happier with the results. Our Dancing Drum Signature Series drums are used by educators, recreational and professional percussionists.

What has been the reaction to those and are there more products planned? 

We've had some excellent feedback about our drums being the best quality manufactured djembes and djun-djuns on that market today, and at a very reasonable price. People also appreciate a greener alternative to traditionally made drums. We hope to create and release new additions to the Dancing Drum series of drums made by Tycoon Percussion in the near future.

What's next for Dancing Drum? 

We're planning some exciting new things for 2010. In the spring, we'll be hosting our 2nd annual Santa Barbara Drum Day, which is a free event for the local community, featuring special guest soloists, performing groups, and a 300+ person drum circle. In March, we're heading out on another tour with a focus on schools in New Orleans and throughout the Southern states. Our long-term goal is to bring our programs to a wider international audience including Asian and European countries. We're planning to debut another book in the summer, and we are working everyday to offer more resources to the world-wide drumming community

Anybody that wants to know more can visit our website at or send us an email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to join our mailing list.

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