Following the beat of her heart

My Enchanté column from January 8, 2015

Art, to Yessica Rivera Belsham, is about celebration. It’s also about joy, healing, and building community. She’s recently found a new home for her creativity. She’s one of the resident artists who opened their creativity studios at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning on January 1.

She’s a drummer and drum maker and is also skilled in the visual arts and movement.

“I’ve always had a big passion for rhythm and dancing,” she says.

Her interest in the beat of the drum became intensified several years ago.

“It started here in Kingston,” she says. “I was having a horrible night. I was heading toward my car and something stopped me; I heard this beat. Something within me was literally drawn to the beat. I followed my intuition and it led me to a performance by Wuawuanco Todos, Samba Kingston.”

“Those drums touched a part of me and changed my life. It’s like the heartbeat of the core. I just feel the music.”

She auditioned for the group in 2007 and a week later was part of a performance. Next, she started to make drums. She used recyclable materials.

“I wanted to bring an awareness of how much we throw away,” she says. “I’ve always been very crafty and heavily into the arts. I want drumming to be accessible to many people.”

She applied for funding from Awesome Kingston and was successful. That allowed her to expand her drum making.

“I got more material to make drums. I wanted to make them more sustainable. The drums I did have, I’d put a lot of work into, but they weren’t durable.”

There had been a community drum circle in Kingston, but the person running the group ended it. Yessica wanted a community group, so in June started a new group. She also uses the sounds of crystal bowls in her musical work.

She says she’s quite shy at heart, but has no trouble talking in public about drums and drumming.

Her dream was to have her own studio where she could make her drums, as well as a place for her painting and jewelry-making.

She heard about the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning and the arts hub’s call for resident artists to work on site in the eight creativity studios. Around mid-November, she learned that she was one of artists chosen by the Tett’s selection committee.

“I’m so excited,” she says. “I want to be there to be part of all the creative work that is going to happen. I feel like I’m getting to the point where everything is coming together, all the things I want to do, drumming, painting, sculpting. My cultural roots are Mexican and another passion is Aztec drumming. My dream is to incorporate drums with dancing as part of a full-body experience.”

With the Kingston School of Dance nearby in the Tett Centre, she is in an ideal place to combine drumming and dance.

Yessica has both an arts and a scientific background. She attended Regiopolis-Notre Dame Catholic High School and received Visual Arts, Media Arts, Creative Arts and Graphic Design Awards. She also studied for two years in Karen Pepperkorn’s Creative Arts Focus Program.

In 2003, after high school, she attended the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). During the second year, she took part in artist and illustrators sessions working with a body donation program at the University of Toronto.

“I was fresh out of high school and in my second year of drawing and painting, and here I was in a room of cadavers. There was a box of feet. It was a spiritual experience for me. I wondered where these feet had been, where the person had walked. It was very profound for me.”

This catalyzed an interest in nursing care, especially in the areas of gerontology and hospice. She’s currently studying for a nursing degree through the combined Laurentian University/St. Lawrence College program. Her goal is to become a palliative care nurse. But she’s never leaving her drumming and arts talents behind.

She founded Circle of Wellness, an organization that promotes holistic wellness and integrative therapies, as well as connecting communities.

In 2008, she moved to Mexico for a year to teach English and immerse herself in her Mexican heritage. While there, Yessica was part of a Tahitian performance dance group and participated with a West African performance group. She also studied under Mexican curanderas (shamans). Her fascination and passion for her own Mexican and prehispanic culture inspires her. She has also travelled to Hawaii to take part in a cross-cultural nursing program.

When she returned to Kingston, she rejoined the Samba group.

Yessica serves on the Board of Directors of the Gerontological Nursing Association of Ontario, is an executive of the Palliative Care Nurses Interest Group, Student Co-Representative of the Mental Health Nursing Interest Group. She is also the interim communications officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) Kingston Chapter.

She is certified in the Music Care Certificate Program, a program for healthcare professionals using music therapeutically.

She has volunteered a great many hours in medical and social service settings like Ongwanada, Hotel Dieu’s spiritual care team, Hospice Kingston, Kingston Parkinson’s Society, and Immigration Services of Kingston and Area. She provides drumming workshops with a group of individuals with varying abilities, seniors, children, and individuals in homecare and healthcare settings.

She’s passionate about wellness and the importance of end-of-life care. She rhymes off research about well-being, healthcare and things like meditation.

She’s also concerned about accessibility to resources. That’s one of the reasons she makes her own drums: she can provide them in groups for members who cannot afford their own.

“Everyone is important,” she says. “I’m passionate about our elders and their experiences and stories. I want my work to be accessible to everyone, including the homeless.”

She lists more research, specifically about the homeless and health care.

Does she consider her work daunting? Yes. Impossible? No.

This woman is real. She’s an artist and a healer. When she speaks about painful life processes or situations in the world, she doesn’t try to foolishly hide her feelings and pain. Tears flow down her face for long moments as she talks about the hurt in the world, the physical and emotional pain that many face. The next moment her face lights up with joy and passion as she talks about the importance of healing for everyone.

“I love the quote: ‘Be a part of the change you wish to see in the world,'” she says. “For me, just one person can make a difference; there’s a ripple effect. So many people are disconnected. At times I’ve struggled. It’s taking me so long to finish the nursing degree. But had I not taken the pause, all of this—she moves her hands through the air, referring to her involvement with the Tett arts hub—wouldn’t have happened. Things happen for a reason. I’m passionate about my heritage and roots, but everyone is important, regardless of their culture. Every person who is alive is important. No one is better than anyone else.”

At her new Tett studio, Yessica has lots of ideas about reaching out to the community. She wants to incorporate drumming into community building. She talks about a lantern lighting festival as a way of honoring our ancestors, linking this with bereavement, connecting more with Hospice Kingston. Her hands and face become more animated as she talks about her hopes for community outreach. She mentions Mexico’s Day of the Dead Festival.

“The festival on the Day of the Dead is about celebrating life. We are honoring those who have died. It’s about a community coming together and not being afraid of death. Our culture is death phobic. It is not something we should be afraid of. Everyone will die. It is part of life.”

You can meet this fascinating artist in the creativity studios at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning.
You can find out more about Yessica’s work at kingstondrumcircle.ca (drum circle), circleofwellness.ca (Yessica’s site), or quetzalcoatlkingston.ca (Aztec drumming)

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About Mark Aidan Bergin

Writer, editor, photographic artist specializing in dance, theater, concert, fashion and street photography....sometimes musician. Explorer of arts, culture and world, and all things Celtic and Gotham. On a good day, or perhaps a bad day, simply a mad (FOOBAR, not angry) scientist.
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