I remember being a little kid and spending nearly every weekend in Manhattan with my grandpa. The city was always full of excitement and there was always something to do. But, my favorite activity of all was an afternoon spent in Central Park, and my favorite thing to see was the roller skaters. There was loud music, dancing, people dressed in crazy outfits, and just an overall vibe of fun and excitement. On a recent trip to New York, I stopped by “Skaters’ Road” and was happy to see that they were still there – just as I remembered.
So, what does this have to do with DC? Well, on hot summer days I sometimes find myself lamenting that I chose to live in a city that doesn’t have a “Central Park,” but I do have a pretty nice alternative pretty much in my backyard – Meridian Hill Park. And lucky for me, Meridian Hill Park also has the closest thing I’ve been able to find to the roller skaters in our fair city – The Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle.
Around 3pm every Sunday in the warmer months drummers begin gathering at the southern edge of the parks upper level. Slowly they trickle in, and by 6:00 the circle has usually grown to include about 30 drummers, dancers, and as many as a hundred onlookers. At its height you can hear the beat throughout the entire park. And it’s been like this for more than 40 years, with beginnings tracing back to Malcolm X’s death – when drummers began to play together in celebration of his life.
The crowd changes weekly, but there are some drummers who have missed only a few weeks here and there over the course of 10, even 20 years. It’s a pretty fluid event, but there is clearly someone in charge – barking orders to quicken the tempo or slow things down. Through the years it’s become so much more than just a circle of drummers and dancers. These days you’re likely to find impromptu dance classes, hula hoopers, a yoga session, and even tight rope walkers. Story continues after the jump with pictures and a video. Make sure you watch the video!
I remember the first time I took a trip over to the drum circle, feeling sort of struck by what I saw. Maybe I don’t get out enough, or at least to the right places, but I think this is one of the few places I have felt a real sense of community in DC – total strangers coming together for no other reason than to bang their drums, dance around (some like fools) and just have a good time. Anyone is welcome, and you don’t even have to bring your own drum. I saw plenty of people sharing, even offering up their own instruments to curious onlookers. Same goes for the dancing; I even got solicited to join the fun – an offer which I politely refused!
I don’t go every weekend, and I’ve never actually participated in the drumming, or dancing, but when I do have some free time on a Sunday evening it’s often where I head. There’s something very refreshing about the carefree attitude of this event in such a buttoned-up city. The drummers and the audience come from all walks of life, and everyone is just thrilled to be there. Yes, there are a few who make me snicker, like the dorky looking middle aged woman with a fanny pack who couldn’t hold a beat if her life depended on it. But the Drum Circle doesn’t care who you are, where you come from, or why you’re there. As long as you want to have a good time – they will welcome you with open arms.