Cathy & Al: Moving to the beat

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2012 - 2:25 PM

Cathy Bratter finds an escape from her hearing-impaired world through the Dancing Hands Music drumming classes of ex-lawyer Alan Dworsky.


Cathy Bratter, drumming under the guidance of teacher Al Dworsky.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Cathy Bratter closes her eyes and loses herself in trance-like tapping on her Djembe drum. It's no coincidence that the drum's hardwood torso features an elephant with upturned trunk: Good luck.

Cathy knows all about luck. At 19, she tried to pass a physical to work on a kibbutz in Israel. But a doctor with a hunch delivered stunning news. Cathy was profoundly hearing-impaired.

After a childhood of grueling speech therapy, and berating herself for being "stupid," the diagnosis made Cathy feel free. Her artistic powers exploded in bold and beautiful oil paintings and sculptures that grace homes, hotels and corporate headquarters nationwide.

More luck was coming.

Alan Dworsky was a lawyer searching for a passion. It wasn't the law. So, at 40 and with the blessing of his wife, Betsy, he quit his practice to found Dancing Hands Music (, which publishes books and videos for hand-drummers.

A year ago, an eager student appeared in his African drumming class, presenting the teacher with a unique challenge.

"You don't hear and you want to play drums?" Alan asked Cathy.

"I feel the low sounds. I feel the energy," she said. "I've always wanted to make music with people."

It's difficult to say who enjoys their private lessons more.

"That's great. That's great," Alan tells Cathy, nudging her to open her eyes so teacher-and-student don't "lose contact."

"I do better with my eyes closed," she responds. "I look at you and I screw up."

They laugh.

"The experience of teaching Cathy has influenced the way I teach my regular classes," Alan says.

The experience of music has influenced the way Cathy lives her life.

"I find drumming meditative, like when I do art," she said. "My hands are my way of communicating. Stone-carving, drumming, painting, focusing on what you do have, takes you closer to where you want to go."

Do you know a special duo? "Duets" is an occasional feature that celebrates unique relationships between two unrelated people. Send ideas to, or call 612-673-7350. Please put "Duets" in the subject line.

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