Boomshaka drums up creativity for kids

Ilene Rosenblum and Ilene Rosenblum

Boomshaka, Northwestern’s percussion dance team, stomped its way south to Florida last week — a welcome change from the northern locales the group’s seniors toured during the previous three Spring Breaks.

There was much more practicing and performing than suntanning on the beach for the group, however, as it introduced its eclectic blend of arts and rhythm to schoolchildren.

After a grueling 21-hour drive to Florida, the team woke up at 6 a.m. to start preparing for its marathon seven performances in three days at elementary and middle schools in Central Florida.

“Everyone had the mentality that we were there to work,” Boomshaka Producer Emily Levada said. “I think it was one of the busiest tours the group has ever had.”

This year is special for the 6-year-old group because it has several seniors who have performed with Boomshaka for four years.

Many Florida school districts were on Spring Break at the same time Boomshaka was visiting, so the group searched for audiences at schools in more rural communities. The environment of these schools served the group’s goal of providing an opportunity to introduce alternative art forms to children who might not otherwise be exposed to them, Boomshaka Director Lauren Nagel-Werd said.

“It’s encouraging kids that they don’t need money or props or fancy music lessons or anything like that to make music or to make rhythms,” said Nagel-Werd, a Communication senior.

Before the performance, students at Hudson Middle School in Hudson, Fla., swarmed Levada and co-producer Josh Lesser, a Communication sophomore. The two said this was startling because they do not appear in the group’s show.

“We don’t think of ourselves as stars of the group,” said Levada, a Communication senior.

The group’s 22-member cast and its production team continue to receive messages from young fans who saw them perform in Florida. The children sign the guest book on Boomshaka’s Web site,, and correspond with group members through e-mail.

Even the principals of the schools where the group performed were impressed.

In an e-mail sent to Boomshaka following its performance at his school, Principal James F. Lane Jr. of Pasco Middle School in Dade City, Fla., congratulated the group for its “outstanding” performance that managed to keep 600 middle schoolers enthralled for more than an hour.

During the school year, Boomshaka regularly performs at schools in the Chicago area.

The group sees its Spring Break tour not only as a great opportunity to reach out to children but also to practice new techniques and routines for its Spring Quarter show for an NU audience.

“We use (the Spring Break tour) as a time to showcase different new pieces and to see how they do,” Nagel-Werd said. “We see what people like, what they don’t like, what feels too long, what feels too short.”

One of the new performance pieces, called Pole Talk, uses wooden dowel rods of different lengths that each produce a different pitch.

Boomshaka’s Spring Quarter show, which the group plans to focus on exploring sensory illusions, will be held May 13-15 at McCormick Auditorium in Norris University Center. The show will be the group’s first major performance on campus this year and the second time the group has ever performed on campus.

Beginning this week the group will practice a grueling six times every week for two to six hours at a time in preparation for the show.