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The beat goes on at Siesta Key drum circle

Now in its 26th year, the Siesta Key drum circle is as steady and evocative as the tide. And much like the beach’s famous sand, its rhythm is just as healing.

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  • | 10:00 a.m. February 2, 2023
Drum circle newbie Julia Clark (center) bangs her worries away among the usual cadre of characters.
Drum circle newbie Julia Clark (center) bangs her worries away among the usual cadre of characters.
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
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If you want march to a different drummer, follow the beat to the Siesta Key drum circle. 

These powerful percussionists greet the sunset with syncopation every Sunday. They start just before the sun slips below the horizon; some might continue until the dawn’s early light. It’s a spontaneous happening, not a paying gig. A few friends just started hitting the skins one Sunday — and made it a weekly ritual. This rhythm of life draws dancers, and they’ve made it a ritual, too. 

The circle gathers on Siesta Public Beach, directly south of the main pavilion between lifeguard stands 3 and 4. If that’s obtuse, don’t worry. Just park in the public lot and follow your ears.

Butterfly wings are a staple accessory among drum circle dancers.

Free-spirited Sarasota plastic surgeon Dr. Marguerite Barnett and her be-goggled beau, Shawn Bowen, function as the unofficial “poster children” of Siesta Key’s Sunday night drum ritual.

Vykky Contreras shows up every Sunday to dance. “I’m here rain or shine,” Contreras says. “I come for the drums, the sunset and the water. All three of those things combined are a gift.”

The Siesta spectacle has evolved over the years from a tightknit crew of like-minded locals gathering each Sunday on a private stretch of beach into a raucous, all-ages, motley crew of drummers, dancers and spectators from all over the area — many of them tourists. 

A zen flock of seagulls gave no mind to the cacophony
happening on the beach behind them.

The white sand on Siesta Key Beach is the stuff of legends. Made of rock from the Appalachian Mountains, Siesta’s famous sugar sand is said to have therapeutic properties thanks to its nearly 100% quartz count. Regular drum circle dancer Morgan Crane credits the quartz with lifting her spirits every week. “It comes up through your feet and really does heal you,” Crane says.

A percussionist deep in the beat.

Jack Cherin tucks a flower behind his ear courtesy of local flower child/surgeon Dr. Marguerite Barnett.

“The drumming and the dancing are integral to the experience,” says drum circle founder David Gittens. “The dancing is another rhythm, another brushstroke on the canvas of the celebration. The drummers inspire the dancers and the dancers inspire the drummers. It’s a two-way street. They nurture each other.”

“It definitely became more rambunctious,” says longtime Siesta Key resident Diana Daffner of the weekly beach exaltation. “We originally drummed at Beach Access 8 — a private part of the beach closer to the village. We got louder and bigger and some of the people in the condos complained, so we ended up getting pushed further down to the public end of the beach.” Daffner, along with David Gittens, was one of the circle’s original participants back in the late 1990s. 

Clouds obscured the sunset on the night of the Nov. 13 drum circle, but just as the music was ending and the crowd was beginning to amble home for the evening, the sky erupted into dramatic shades of indigo and violet. 


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