By Debbie Danbrook
Sacred Dance has always been a shining part of my life and my heart. One of my earliest childhood memories is standing on a warm rock feeling my feet connected to the earth and raising my face up to the sun like a little sunflower. I would have been three because I wasn’t allowed to cross the street and I stood there for ages… Earth, sun and my little body in-between. This is a feeling of stillness I remember/feel in my bones and as much as my body loves to move it also likes the floating feeling of non movement. Like the space and stillness between our breaths.
At age four I started ballet and I loved the rhythmic connection between body and music. I adored the piano music that was played! I had three years of ballet and loved it all until at the age of seven I lost the sight in one eye and during the treatment I was bandaged and mostly lost all my sight. During a Royal Academy of Dance exam I have a keen memory of galloping across the dance floor straight into the piano! The kind examiners graciously passed me on the exam.
Then my feet stopped growing properly and I was into corrective shoes and that was the end of ballet. But I had internalized how the rhythm and music and movement and earth and sun all flowed through my body and my heart and this I would carry for my life.
So I switched to music lessons. And I am grateful that my vision came back and my feet improved. I joined the Brownies (a magical group inspired by fairies and music and dance) and we would do lovely little fairy dances together. And later I took some jazz dance classes, great music and great rhythms!
In high school I began playing piano for dance classes. This was the beginning of my joyful career of joining music and dance that has continued throughout my life.
After years of studying classical music I came to the heartbreaking realization that the music wasn’t moving me anymore. It felt stagnant, without life and it was physically hurting my heart. So I walked away, and took a wild leap. I ended up working on boats in the Bahamas and after two of them ‘broke’ found myself on a desert island for almost a year. This was isolation. But the sound of the waves washed away all the regimented years of music lessons and brought me back to the simple rhythm of life. The warm rocks beneath my feet and my face uplifted to the sun.
Back to Canada where my ears were unveiled from hearing only classical music and suddenly I was listening to and playing folk music, jazz, rock, Celtic, so much magical music! I ended up in Vancouver learning jazz on saxophone and flute. I became part of a collective of artists doing performance art. It was so lovely to weave my music through the dance and the theatre and the installations. My sound, their movement, their movement, my sound. And I danced with them with my flute through hanging logs with microphones attached. I did the music for an Aboriginal theatre group and we performed it at the former Museum of Civilization and we danced that piece up to the Parliament Buildings.
I had an opportunity arise in Montreal and I moved there to play for some amazing modern dance schools and troupes. With one I would dance among them with my flute and again their movement changed the music and then I would shift the sound and their movement would follow. It was divine. I played classes for the Ballet Jazz De Montreal. Amazing dancers. I did the score for the Tangent collective. I remember it so clearly. An intricate dance was performed by three women and then they did the same dance but this time in business attire and high heels… You can imagine. I was carried off playing saxophone with the women holding me high above their heads, very ceremonial. I also played for ballet, always lovely.
Then my huge Shift moment. I was playing at a choreography festival in Vancouver when I first heard the Shakuhachi flute. That was it, I knew that this was my soul flute!
Learning Shakuhachi was the big lesson for this life. I again learned the feeling of connection to the earth. Watching, listening, feeling the breath and then the sound and then the silence. Shakuhachi is a type of Zen and it follows the ancient Japanese tradition of Ma, sound and silence, movement and stillness, object and space and it is clearly seen in the traditional brush painting of black paint and white background.
More playing for ballet, this time in a grand old mansion. When it came time for the Royal Academy of Dance exams I was the translator for the lovely examiners who came from England. I have played for the ballet exams in English, French and Japanese!!!
I was fascinated by all the traditional Japanese art forms with their stylized movements. Formal Kabuki theatre and also the local people’s style of neighbourhood Kabuki, the riveting Noh dance-drama and one of my favourites, Bunraku puppetry. And the festival dancing – parades with Taiko drummers and huge shrines carried on shoulders and people dancing traditional folk dances that had been passed down through the centuries. I loved joining in!
It wasn’t until I returned to Canada that I was introduced to Japanese Butoh. The Shakuhachi flute and Butoh are a perfect fit. The intensity of the energy, the correlation between breath, sound, movement, stillness – perfection. I worked for years with an amazing Butoh dancer, Denise Fujiwara. I created many scores for her but my favourite thing were the on site performances we offered. In Vancouver on the rocks off of Stanley Park. She danced in a costume based on the traditional linen garment made for the revered Egyptian cats when they were mummified. I played in the pouring rain… In Newfoundland we performed in Pippy Park, stunning views. At the Ottawa National Arts Centre we performed outdoors, such a beautiful setting. And we also performed throughout Canada in traditional theatre settings.
I also created scores for countless solo dancers and also a score for big production for Tedd Robinson and the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers. I sang a solo for the first time during ‘Lepidoptera’, performed at the National Arts Centre.
And then another Shift moment – the Labyrinth. I love the Labyrinth! For me, combining music and walking/dancing on this ancient Sacred Symbol has been such a blessing on my spiritual journey. Through the Labyrinth I met my friend Ruth Richardson who introduced me to Wendy Morrell and the Sacred Dance Guild! And here I am so many wonderful years and memories later writing this piece for the Guild’s newsletter!
I have so many wonderful moments that pop out at me when I think of the Sacred Dance Guild. The festivals and workshops that I have played and danced at. The wonderful people/community I have met. The places we have gone, the fun, the laughter, the dance. I could write another article on all my Sacred Dance Guild adventures but that will be for another day.
I love the Prayer video featuring Helena Froehlich at one of the SDG festivals.
For today I want to thank the Sacred Dance Guild, I want to thank all the dancers I have met and danced with throughout my whole Debbie Danbrook life! I want to thank the dance that moves through me as I type this. I dance through so much of my life and I am so happy to do it! And everyday that I can I get up and just let my being flow and sway and twist and dip. And I have a new toy during this big shift that we are going through now – Steve got me some fabulous bluetooth headphones and I’ll put them on with either some of our music or some old favourites or jazz or or…. and I just move. I am so grateful for the dance.
Fairy Hugs to you, all my fellow dancers, Love, Debrina (my priestess/fairy name)
p.s. Yesterday Claire Elizabeth Barratt and I just finished a new dance/music video for the Spring Equinox! It will be available in both our newsletters, enjoy!
Debbie Danbrook is a musician, composer and recording artist specializing in music for dance, meditation, and healing. She is a Master player of the Shakuhachi flute, an ancient Japanese instrument that was originally played by monks as a type of Zen called ‘Suizen’ or blowing Zen. Debbie is the first woman to have mastered this difficult instrument and weaves the Shakuhachi together with her voice in her ethereal music.
Her music has been embraced by healers and spiritual practitioners around the globe. She has released over 20 CD’s of music through her company Healing Music. www.healingmusic.com
She has performed internationally and played at EXPO in Japan and has played for the Japanese Prince and Princess. Debbie was invited to offer her healing music at the Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.
Debbie offers: Music Meditations for individuals and groups. Mantra Sessions – create your own, personal life Mantra. Clearing and Inviting in Light Ceremonies for homes and work places. Now available on line on Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp.
Debbie is an ordained Reverend and Priestess and performs Memorials and Celebration of Life ceremonies.
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Healing Music also offers a Sleep Program to help listeners get a deeper and more beneficial sleep. www.sleep-program.com