Jaki Saylors helps people of all ages and abilities find their rhythm.
Saylors was once a student in Drums Alive, a therapeutic exercise put on by the Arc of Bristol County in its Attleboro Day Habilitation Center on Park Street.
But Saylors, 28, of Attleboro, proved so adept at the percussion activity, they made her an instructor.
“I watched her during the classes and saw that she had rhythm, so I asked if she wanted to join me up front,” said Alison Dulak, an employee at the center who brought the program to The Arc. “She’s come a long way.”
Drums Alive instructors and participants beat drumsticks on medicine balls to the beat of whatever music is playing. The balls are balanced on small barrels.
“It’s a therapy, it’s an all-around exercise,” said Alicia Fuchs, one of the Drums Alive instructors at the center. “It helps focus your mind and center your body… and you’re keeping time, so it helps the rhythms of your brain. It helps calm someone who’s anxious to ground themselves and at the same time, you’re exercising.”
Drums Alive is a worldwide organization that, according to its website, “combine(s) fitness, drumming, music, and educational concepts to improve the physical, emotional, and social health of participants.”
There are specific programs for senior citizens, mentally and physically challenged individuals, gifted children, and healthy adults.
Kevin and Jamie Souza, founders of Abilities Rec in Kingston, R.I., introduced Drums Alive to Dulak, who was so impressed she immediately got to work to bring classes to The Arc.
She managed to obtain a grant from the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation to get herself and fellow employees Fuchs and Kelly Ledoux certified to teach classes.
After a few classes, Dulak noticed that Saylors, a special needs woman enrolled at the center, had a particular knack for drumming.
Dulak applied to the Flutie Foundation to get Saylors certified as well, and even though Dulak created the choreography, she now looks to Saylors during classes when she forgets a move. Saylors says they practice weekly in order to perfect their moves.
Only watching a Drums Alive class can truly show what a talented drummer and effective leader Saylors has become. She knows the choreography by heart, never missing a beat. She gives helpful cues to the class before the number of beats or tempo changes.
“I like dancing and beating the drums for songs and encouraging others to try,” she said during a recent session.
Saylors and her fellow instructors teach four monthly classes at The Arc to four different age groups. They also teach weekly classes at the Day-Hab center and at the Hillside Adult Day Care Center in Attleboro.
Recently, Saylors helped lead a Drums Alive session for students at Foxboro Regional Charter School, which afterward posted the event on its website.
While Saylors and her fellow instructors don’t do many public shows, they were to perform at the Arc Strong: Achieving Dreams Run, Walk & Roll event on Sunday, July 14, at the Holiday Inn in Taunton. The fundraiser benefitted the many individuals supported by The Arc.
The classes are, above all else, fun. Participants drum and dance to songs such as “Handclap” by Fitz & The Tantrums, “Celebrate” by Pitbull, and “Closer” by The Chainsmokers. They use a variety of dance moves, beating their drumsticks together, on different parts of the ball, the floor, and on each others medicine balls. They even form a circle with the balls for one of the songs and dance around them.
At a recent session, she was teaching a 5- to 11-year-old group, but Dulak said people of every age have fun with Drums Alive.
“I have so many parents tell me that watching their kids just makes them want to join in,” she said. “There are very few things that are age-appropriate for the entire family, that everyone can do together.”
“Anyone can do it,” Fuchs said. “If they can’t hold drumsticks, we’ll even get pool noodles or different adaptive equipment so they can participate. Or they can use their hands or their feet to drum on the balls.”