By David Troxel
Sopris Sun Contributor
In many world cultures, it’s said that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Eric Baumheier goes a step further, suggesting that the village that makes music and dances together is the ideal environment for child-raising, community-building and coming together to celebrate life. He describes Carbondale as just that kind of place.
“For one thing,” says Baumheier, “I’ve noticed that Carbondale has a population that really likes to dance. Just go to Mountain Fair one time and you can see that there a lot of people here who love to dance.”
Aja, his partner in music and dance as well as in living and raising their three daughters together, agrees and expands on the idea. “The original connection between dancing and drumming is about ceremony, healing, and celebration,” she says. “A lot of people are receptive to that, and seek that expression in a safe space to experience transformation, letting go, releasing stress, or just celebrating together and bonding with other people who feel that same way.”
The Baumheier clan is at the center of a culturally diverse project in bringing communities together through rhythm and dance that they call the Carbondale Rhythm Collective. Originally a family affair that presented Eric, Aja and the girls as “The Frolix Family” (think “frolic”), the CRC has evolved over the past few years into a loose affiliation of drummers, marimba players and dancers who move fluidly into and out of the group, while nurturing their common passion for connecting people and communities through the rhythmic energies of traditional African percussion and dance. But while expressing a deep respect for the West African drumming forms and the marimba-playing styles of Zimbabwe, Baumheier makes it clear that the CRC is not bound by custom.
“I do it out of respect for the African teachers that I’ve had,” he says, “because for them it goes deeper than just a part of their culture, it’s spiritual, and we honor that. And we also work creatively with it, which often expands it beyond the boundaries of the traditional practices and balancing that with respect is sometimes a challenge.”
Baumheier, who teaches marimba classes in area schools and to adults, began building confidence in working with children as a middle school teacher at Compass School in Denver before moving to Carbondale in 1998. He quickly came to see his new home as “more of a village, in a greater sense than a lot of communities. There’s a core group of people here that see Carbondale that way. And with the ecstatic dance, there are a lot of people breaking the molds, which is totally Carbondale also.”
Baumheier’s model for the Carbondale Rhythm Collective, which he sees as “a small village,” reflects and builds on that vision. “My idea in creating the CRC is to facilitate local interest in community building exercises, taking people out of their comfort zone to connect what I love with the people around me.” In working toward that, Baumheier draws on the impact that the music and dance has had on his own life. “It’s opened doors to meeting people, knowing myself better, helping me to recognize the rhythm of daily life, and wanting to bring that to more people.”
While African music and dance has long been popular in more urban areas, Baumheier notes that Carbondale is friendlier than other rural areas to these traditional forms. He regards the African dance classes available locally as “a tradition in this valley,” noting that “alternative communities are drawn to the more exotic flavors in life, and certainly the African flavor is one of those.” Baumheier describes Carbondale as part of a “Golden Triangle” of this sort of music that also includes Paonia and Crested Butte. The region, he says, is especially attractive to the African teachers that he and the CRC regularly invite to teach here.
“It reminds them of home,” he says. “They come out of the urban environment that’s not like their village, and here there’s more of a village sense of it. They come together from these different towns and spend the night playing music together like they did in their villages. There may not be another African there, but they say this is closer to the real thing.”
Participation in the CRC is a communal experience as well, and often includes gathering together for pot-luck meals, getting into the mountains for camp-out rhythm workshops, and generally mingling families and social circles in a way that evokes a tribal connection often missing from modern life. “It’s not about learning to dance or drum or play,” Baumheier says, “but about dancers and drummers getting together in an interactive way that’s harmonious. I just really thrive on that feeling, and I think that a community can thrive on it too.”