Willie Stewart teaches “Fun School”

By LeToya Stairs

FT. LAUDERDALE – Summer break usually means an unlimited supply of popsicles and trips to the playground, but at New Mirawood Academy, summer camp means learning about the world in unique ways. The humble multi-ethnic community day care and summer camp, made up primarily of children of African descent, has hired internationally renowned percussionist Willie Stewart (formerly of Third World) each summer for the last three years to teach their campers, children ages 5–12. Stewart’s impact has been widespread…

Put best by one fifth-grader at New Mirawood Academy, “I was feeling like we were in fun school; we learned but at the same time we were having fun!” Another elementary schooler, who was tickled by the East African Ngoma Drum (also called the “Dancing Drum” because it actually dances across the floor when beaten rigorously), shared: “When you play the music you feel it moving through you. You just want to dance.”

And dance they did. The children brought their favorite street dances like the Dougie (often performed by teens such as Justin Bieber) to the drum circle. As 12-year-old Catherine put it, “We learned where our dancing comes from.” The children were able understand that they inherited ancient rhythms from their African ancestors which they enjoy through today’s dances and manufactured hip-hop beats.

This workshop is just one demonstration of Willie Stewart’s efforts that directly impact children and give back to the community. Another is the annual production of Rhythms of Africa: Music Around the World. “Rhythms of Africa,” a Knight Arts Challenge grantee, is a musical journey that describes the movement of ancient rhythms sprung from the souls of vibrant cultures and carried by hand and heart from Africa to the Caribbean, South America and the New World.

New Mirawood Academy Campers with percussionist Willie Stewart.

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