Cirque Zuma Zuma
Accompanied by live musicians and percussionists from Zimbabwe, Cirque Zuma Zuma performs physical and artistic feats including traditional Gabonese tumbling, Tanzanian handstand chair balancing, and traditional African dance. The group highlights these skills and many more in a feast for the senses. With bright costumes, colorful props and fast-paced music, the show delivers excitement and energy. Following a 2011 appearance on America’s Got Talent, Cirque Zuma Zuma toured Europe with sell-out performances and an extended debut run in Australia.
The group came together in 2005 as the touring branch of an entertainment training school. Students from 16 nations currently develop their skills in Tanzania and Kenya. They attend the schools after they have displayed early acrobatic skill and devote years to daily training.
Help for Families
Creator and former acrobat John Jacobs created Cirque Zuma Zuma to help African artists support themselves. “My goal was to be able to help these performers work to send money home to their parents, to get food, or for their young brothers and sisters to go to school,” Jacobs told Straight. “Some of them can build a home or provide medical support for their family. There’s a lot of things they do that I feel proud of,” he said.
Acrobatics began in China over 2500 years ago and by the time of the Han dynasty (206 B.C to 220 A.D.), the skill had spread to the rest of the world. From the Greek words acros meaning high and bainen meaning walk or march, the word refers to the early skill of tightrope walking.
The skills performed by acrobats also involve contortion and tumbling. Contortion is the extreme bending and flexing of the human body while tumblers use momentum to invert their bodies in midair. Backbends, front bends, front and side splits, and all tumbling skills, require years of daily stretching and exercising to achieve the necessary flexibility and strength.
Likely originated in sub-Saharan Africa, African dance utilizes large groups, usually separated by gender. For most styles, the dancer focuses on individual limbs, each with a specific rhythm. Choreographically known as “isolations” these moves are difficult to master. Most villages have a dance master to teach traditional dances. Dancers must perform exactly as taught, with no variation, until they perfect each movement.
African dances occur as part of traditions that include celebrations, funerals, rites of passage, and the passing of information to younger generations. Individual tribal techniques of the Maasai of Kenya include high leaps, and the Kalabari of Nigeria incorporate dramatic hip motions.
African music all over the continent relies on fast-paced, upbeat drumming using instruments like the djembe and the talking drum. Classified as membranophones, the drums feature a tight skin stretched over a hollow body or shell. In addition to their use in music and entertainment, tribes often used drums as a communication tool. They could establish meetings with tribes miles away or warn them of danger.
Cirque Zuma Zuma also features traditional gumboot dances. In the past, gold miners in South Africa often worked in terrible conditions. The mines would flood, and rather than undertaking the costly process of outfitting them with a drainage system, mine owners gave every worker a pair of rubber Wellington boots, known as gum boots.
Often chained to their workstations, workers caught talking to each other would be punished. In protest, they developed the gumboot dances as a communication system. By stomping their boots or rattling their chains, they could convey messages to coworkers a short distance away without getting in trouble.