FALMOUTH – Dawna Hammers believes music is medicine. Her new video, “Alive,” pairs movements inspired by African dance with a song she wrote more than 20 years ago when she was grieving the loss of her sister and her father.
In this time of pandemic, with so many experiencing the death of close friends and family, Hammers thought this song might bring people some solace and even joy.
The idea for the video came about after she read about a grant opportunity offered by The National League of American PEN Women and applied for funds to make the video. When she found out she received the grant, the next challenge was how to do it.
She brought in Marilyn Rowland, who in her longtime involvement with ArtsFalmouth, the nonprofit that puts on Arts Alive, had filmed Hammers performing a number of times over the years.
Hammers used movements she learned from classes taken at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York with Master Drummer Babatunde Olatunje of Nigeria to create the African inspired dance that celebrates the elements: earth, air, fire and water.
The dance features the “fanga,” which Hammers said is “the first movements of a traditional welcome dance of Liberia.”
She also incorporates a Native American-inspired chant using vowel sounds in order to bring together Native American song, African dance and popular music.
“It’s time to bring it all together,” Hammers said, “We’re one people.”
Because Hammers first conceived the idea of the video before the pandemic, she imagined assembling hundreds of different types of people singing and dancing together. But the rules around covid meant she had to make major adjustments. “We had to scale it way down,” she said.
She sent out the word to friends that she would be making the video on Nobska Beach, asking for participants.
Among those she contacted was Laura Sciortino, whose daughter Cordelia, 8, takes piano lessons from Hammers.
Sciortino, a dancer and artistic director of Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth, not only brought Cordelia but also brought in two talented dancers from her studio, Darien Santos, 16, and his sister, Airlie, 13.
Tara Murphy, a longtime friend of Hammers’ who teaches African dance on Cape Cod, joined in and added some of her own choreography to the dance.
Also answering the call was Annalisa Eisen, who Hammers works with, and Mary Swope, a longtime Woods Hole resident and poet who swims regularly at Nobska Beach where the video was filmed. Swope appears in her bathing suit, seemingly having just finished a swim in the ocean. Alongside her is her dog, Ozzie, seeming to enjoy the dance too.
Sciortino said she enjoyed participating. “It was fun for me to dance with my daughter. We had a blast,” she said.
The dancers learned the choreography that morning. Sciortino recalled the day of filming, “the beautiful weather and us all dancing together with the lyrics, ‘We’re alive,’ and connecting.”
As the videographer, Rowland said the filming had a host of challenges, in addition to covid. She also had to contend with beach regulations and cloudy skies. But she appreciated participating. “I think Dawna’s song is really relevant for today’s situation,” she said.
Rowland also experienced a recent loss, her sister died as she was working on the video. “I thought [the message] was life-affirming: just seize the day and enjoy this magical moment in time when we are on this earth. It’s a beautiful song and a great dance.”
Rowland said she is looking forward to making another video of the song—“I’d like to improve some things”—working with Hammers when covid restrictions loosen up.
“It was a really fun process. I had never made a music video before,” she said, crediting Falmouth Community Television (FCTV) for her training and local cable access station’s equipment.
Hammers is a proponent of the transformative power of music. Her father and grandfather were pharmacists. Her mother was a nurse and tap dancer “who was always singing.”
“I know from my ancestry and spiritual music teachers the deep power of music. That music is medicine,” she said.
One of the many losses from the pandemic, Hammers said, is participating in live performance. “All ancient native peoples knew how important it is to sing and drum and dance on the earth every day to give thanks to the elements and . . . to unify, purify and heal individually and collectively.”
She said she hopes to lead more outdoor dances around Falmouth this spring and summer.
Quoting another teacher of hers, The Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, Hammers said, “Dancing on the land is like acupuncture for the earth.”
For Hammers, dancing and singing is one way towards healing. “There has been a lot of death and it’s been a very hard time but a very powerful time for people to contemplate what’s important and what does the earth need to heal and what people need to heal. I believe music is what’s missing. We need more joy.”
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