African Acrobats perform at St. Martin de Porres School through art grant

African Acrobats perform at St. Martin de Porres School through art grant

African Acrobats perform at St. Martin de Porres School through art grant

COLUMBIA—Cartwheels and flips were the special of the day in the cafeteria at St. Martin de Porres School on March 17.

The African Acrobats, a six-man troupe originally from Kenya, performed for the children, faculty and some visiting parents as part of an ongoing effort to expose students to the arts.

Juma Khamis, the group’s leader and organizer, said the acrobats are based in Columbia and regularly perform for schools and at events around the state.

The show drew smiles, gasps of amazement and laughter from the students, who range in age from three-year-old kindergartners to sixth graders.
The acrobats performed balancing acts, flipped through small yellow barrels, tumbled and did cartwheels and other stunts while jumping rope. During the show, they called student volunteers up to see how low they could go in the limbo, which involves walking under an ever-lowering bar without touching the floor.

For another routine, students tossed a soccer ball at a performer who caught it on a wooden stick and balanced it in the air.

They talked to the students about Kenya, taught them some words in Swahili, the country’s main language, and discussed the importance of practice, dedication and hard work.

Khamis said the men spent years learning acrobatics and practice two hours daily on average.

“The show was very exciting,” said fifth-grader Julius Murray, 10. “I especially liked it when they did cartwheels while they jumped rope and jumped through the hoops. I learned it takes a lot of skills and talent to do what they do.”

Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, the school’s principal, said the performance and other arts events at the school have been funded by two sources.

In June 2009, the school received a $7,500 “Arts Alive” grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation. They have used it this year for a number of projects. One of the first things they did was purchase a digital camera and several disposable ones. Students were asked to take photos of things they saw in nature, and the pictures were displayed during an African-American Night of the Arts.

Sister Roberta said the range of subject matter the students chose impressed her. She was so excited about the success of Arts Alive that she contacted her congregation, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Buffalo, N.Y., to see if funds were available.

The order contributed about $3,000 for more cultural events at the school, which helped fund the acrobats, a field trip to see “The Lion King of Mali,” and more.

In the near future, she hopes to take students to a local art gallery and the theater. The goal is to introduce them to many different mediums of art, and then tie them in with literature, science, math and other core subjects, Sister Roberta said.

Drama, for instance, is being incorporated into an ongoing, school-wide study project about healthy nutrition and protecting the environment. Students help plan school menus and are introduced to new foods, such as pomegranates and mangos. They have planted flowers around campus, have regular discussions with teachers about the care of God’s creation, and are making a video about their efforts. The project will wind up with a play about the environment planned for Earth Day on April 22.

“All of the things we’re doing help us enrich the student’s exposure to the arts,” Sister Roberta said. “Art is more than just drawing pictures.”

Amy Wise Taylor contributed to this article.