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Kids Love PB&J 

Sabra Logan stands in front of a crowd of about 50 children and their parents in The Palladium at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The yellow bottom of her dress flutters slightly as she gestures to the kids, who range in age from approximately 1 to 7.

Logan wants to know if any of the children are brave enough to come strike the D'Jembe drum beside her.

After a short delay, a young boy of 3 or 4 sprints forward and smacks the drum as hard as he can with a single open hand. Just as quickly, he runs back to one of his parents.

It's just one experience of many in the Duke Energy Peanut Butter and Jam Series. The series allows children, primarily aged 8 and younger, to be exposed to a variety of musical genres alongside their parents. It is co-organized by The Center for the Performing Arts and The Scene, the center's young professionals group.

click to enlarge Children play with some of the African instruments on display. - COLIN LIKAS
  • Colin Likas
  • Children play with some of the African instruments on display.

Logan's Iibada Dance Company was featured in the series' sixth event, African dance and storytelling, last month on Feb. 1.

"(My goal was) just to get the children an introduction to African culture," Logan said. "I just want to push as much as possible for their learning and education."

John Hughey, director of external relations for The Center for Performing Arts, said all six performances so far in the Peanut Butter and Jam Series have been well attended and well received.

At least part of the reason for this lies in the other cohost of the series, The Scene.

The Scene offers opportunities for those between ages 21 and 40 to view and be involved in various artistic and cultural endeavors, according to the group's website.

"We're trying to encourage our generation to become more active in the arts here in Carmel," said Alicia Wanker, president of  The Scene's Leadership Council. "We have a world-class performing arts center here, and I think our generation is not aware of everything it has to offer."

Michelle Richey, The Scene's community outreach chair, works with Hughey to pick performances for the series. Wanker said she feels the two have worked to find a diverse set of performers. Hughey said the groups were trying to highlight styles of music, which occasionally results in themed performances.

A jazz music event and Klezmer -- or Jewish folk music -- performance are among the shows remaining in the series. Some events that preceded the African music and storytelling show included a ukulele sing-along and a mariachi performance.

Hughey said the collaboration between the Center and The Scene works well because of the age of the latter's members.

"It's a perfect combination, because Scene members are starting their families," Hughey said. "This is an opportunity for young professionals to come as a family and incorporate some of the same ideas that everyone has professionally."

Iibada Dance Company dancers perform at The Palladium. - COLIN LIKAS
  • Colin Likas
  • Iibada Dance Company dancers perform at The Palladium.

Those who attended Iibada Dance Company's performance were first treated to the stylings of Jahi Jywanza, who assisted Iibada during the show.

He surprised the crowd with a D'Jembe drum solo to open the morning session. A majority of the children sat in awe on provided mats as Jywanza struck the drum repeatedly just a few feet in front of them. He then told a story called "Frog," about a large frog attempting to impress two smaller frogs.

The moral of the story was, "Be yourself; don't try to be bigger than what you really are," Jywanza said.

Jywanza employed different voices for each of the frogs, keeping many of the children hanging on his every word and causing them to laugh.

At the story's conclusion, Logan took the floor briefly before introducing seven of her company's members. In primarily yellow, blue and red clothing, they performed an African dance, weaving between one another and gliding across the room.

While the dancers prepared for their next act, John further explained how to play a D'Jembe drum. At this point, Logan offered the children in the audience a chance to show what they had learned.

After the first boy had taken his turn, other children ran to the drum one at a time and took their best hit. Logan then told a story titled "The Ant," which was played out silently by some of her dancers in costumes. In the story, a small ant tries desperately to move a large piece of food home to her family, asking for help from other animals as she goes.

The story was injected with humor from Logan's voice work, but the moral was serious: If an ant can move a large piece of food all the way home, you can achieve your goals too.

Logan used the show's final segment to get as many children as possible up on their feet. She asked "where all (her) dancers were," slowly but surely drawing about 15 to 20 kids to the dance area. Once there, the children were taught a dance which, in English, translates to "Welcome, we greet you, you and you." The children waved their hands in the air and shifted their bodies quickly from side to side, trying their hardest to imitate Logan.

Jenie Van Hampton's 3 ½-year-old daughter, Jordan, was one of those who took to the dance floor.

"My favorite part was watching this little rug-child dance in front of everybody," Van Hampton said. "That was pretty funny."

Jahi Jywanza shows how large the biggest frog was during the story “Frog.” - COLIN LIKAS
  • Colin Likas
  • Jahi Jywanza shows how large the biggest frog was during the story “Frog.”

After the show concluded, audience members of all ages were given the opportunity to experiment with various instruments, including smaller versions of the D'Jembe drum.

Scenes such those at the African music and storytelling event have played out multiple times at The Palladium, Hughey said.

"I think that's exactly what we see every time," he said. "Providing that space (for children to learn and interact) is something that is part of our mission to reach out to the community."

The option to be immersed in the diversity the series offers is something Logan said those attending the events should embrace.

"Diversity has to do with their overall being," said Logan, who added she was "born into diversity" in Baltimore, Md. "I really believe I'm the person I am today because of the different cultures and backgrounds, and respect for each one."

Van Hampton said she plans on returning to The Palladium for more series events.

"We picked a few of the different areas that we thought looked neat," she said. "We went to the steel drums, and we're going to the jazz appreciation."

Wanker said reaching out to children of young ages in this way is important for multiple reasons.

"We really just want to encourage kids at a young age to become fans of the arts, and to really encourage youth development," Wanker said. "In this day and age, (these are things) schools are cutting funding for. This gives parents a nice way to introduce their children to the arts outside of school."

Iibada dancers finish their performance during “The Ant.” - COLIN LIKAS
  • Colin Likas
  • Iibada dancers finish their performance during “The Ant.”

Hughey said the performances are meant to last about 30 minutes, with another 15 minutes being provided for interaction, in order to cater to a child's brief attention span. While it may seem like a short time for a performance, Hughey said the series' benefits could be far-reaching.

"Being able to take away some of the mystery of what the music is like, (and) being this close to the performers, just really sparks their imagination," Hughey said. "All of these children that are here can be artists."

The series' next event, featuring jazz saxophonist Rob Dixon and Jazz Impressions, will be held Saturday, April 5 at 10:30 a.m. at The Palladium. Tickets cost $10 per child, with two adults able to attend for free for each child ticket purchased.

For information call the Palladium's box office at 317-843-3800 for more information.

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About The Author

Colin Likas / Butler

Colin Likas / Butler

Bio:
Colin Likas is a Butler University senior from Crown Point, Ind., majoring in journalism. He'd like to work in newspapers as a sports reporter and, eventually, editor.

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