The Daily Motions
Eight Westerners pull-up benches on-loan from a nearby restaurant and sit in a wide-open U formation with bongo drums in hand. Arambol beach has a momentum; without being specifically organised there are daily activities that come-together in specific areas and places along the sandy strip.
Pre-sunset is the busiest time on this beach, when everyone congregates to enjoy the spectacle. Newly acquired hobbies are practiced and shown-off; these are the activities of those who have been at leisure on the beach for some time. Guys roll glass spheres up and down their arms in an eloquent balancing act, like juggling but without tossing. There is also juggling, baton-spinning, guys who look like they’re practicing cheerleading poses by lifting girls over their heads, tippy-spinning dances, the occasional girl who just experienced her first belly-dancing class and is now excited to try her new garment with all those little metal dangles. A group gathers around someone with a guitar, drunken Russian voices belt out standard hits from the 70’s and 80’s. But by far the largest crowd has gathered around the seated bongo drummers; the sounds from their drums can be heard far up the beach, unhindered by any buildings or structures.
A circle naturally continues from the open U of the seated drummers and a few people have taken possession of the middle, letting their bodies bounce about to the beat. This group consists of ten to thirty people most evenings, in an ever-changing collection as some dancers join while others have had their fill. Some of the dancers seem to be taking themselves seriously, they dance with serious poker faces as if taking part in a formal religious act. A few have their eyes closed and actually look like they are in pain, having some type of deep spiritual moment I can only suppose. One really tall white guy, as thin as could be with dregs and bad teeth, has the look of someone who has experienced too many black-market substances gone wrong. He has no sense of rhythm whatsoever, so instead of dancing or moving to the beat, he just convulses. Like an epileptic fit but standing-up. If I did those jerky motions I would certainly injure myself. He must be having a good experience though, he is at the centre of the action every evening.
People around the fringe of the dancers are swayers. They lean from side-to-side, move a bit, I think many of them would enjoy to participate more fully but for whatever reason they don’t. The crowd tends to be about ten deep around the circle, probably between one and two hundred people. It takes a bit of effort to get to the centre. I make my way through the outliers, deposit my bag near to a drummer and join the fun.
I fall into the category of the amused, along with some Indian folks who seem near to my age. We are the ones who are laughing and smiling, just having fun being silly. We’re not sure what deep spiritual adventures are being had around us, but we’re enjoying our own spiritual uplifting- I nearly always experience joy when dancing.
The drum beat gets faster and faster until the drummers reach their maximum speed and suddenly it all stomps to a halt with cheering and clapping. A few moments later they start again, usually quite slowly and tentatively, like a train starting out.
The drumming becomes experimental during the third round, off-kilter and a bit random. This takes the fun out of spontaneous dancing, trying to match the changing beat is too much of a chore, too cognitive. I take this as my time to bow-out. As I reach for my bag it seems the drummers have realised their folly; only a few dancers remain now and those who do are the ones who couldn’t follow any beat anyway. They cut it short to start again but I don’t turn back, perhaps I’ll join again tomorrow.
If I had a friend here it would have been fun to capture in video. I am finding Arambol to be a bit of a lonely place for me.