What kind of shoes do bananas wear? This is a question that one child struggled to answer until she met Shana Banana.
Shana Banana is a Gainesville-based singer, songwriter, author and educator who has been, as she calls it, “edutaining” people of all ages for over two decades. In March, she will be visiting the students participating in the Hippodrome Theatre’s spring break camp.
During the camp, Shana Banana — who also goes by Shana Smith — will be helping children ages 10 to 16 harness their talents and create a musical piece.
“The theme is going to be ‘found,’” said Smith. “As in found objects or found insights.”
Anything included in that broad category is fair game, she said. It is hard to tell now exactly what the project will look like because, although she is the teacher, she gives her students room to be creative and lead the way.
“My job, I think, is to get out of the way,” she said.
Smith adopted the name Shana Banana when she decided to pursue a career in music while working toward her Ph.D. in biological oceanography at the University of South Florida.
“Music began to take over my heart and my life because I was actually getting professional bookings,” she said. “It happened kind of quickly.”
Smith said she performed for a first grade class in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2001, and she received rave reviews from the students.
Marci Mroz, the mother of one of those students had discovered Shana Banana earlier that year at a show at Triton College in Chicago. She attended that concert not with her children, but with her sisters-in-law.
“Aside from being a great singer and talented songwriter, Shana truly knows how to draw audience members in,” said Mroz.
Soon after that show, Shana Banana would perform for Mroz’s daughter’s class. She was such a hit that she returned the following year.
Raffi Darrow, from St. Petersburg, took her kids to see Shana Banana for the first time when they were toddlers.
“Most of the Florida Shana Banana shows were less than an hour’s drive from our house and free to attend,” said Darrow. “It was something I could easily do with my kids on the weekend.”
But Shana Banana does not only serve children. She teaches yoga classes and music workshops for adults and has published two books: a novel and a parenting guide.
“I even sent my parents … to one of Shana’s performances; although obviously meant to entertain children, my parents (in their 60s at the time) thoroughly enjoyed her performance.”
Shana Banana has managed to touch the lives of so many people of all ages. During one performance, a 100-year-old man from a nearby nursing home stopped by. Shana invited him onstage and engaged him in conversation.
“It was a live lesson in respecting and revering people who are older and wiser,” said Mroz. “The way Shana engaged with that old, crotchety man touched my heart for sure!”
Shana Banana’s diverse styles of work have allowed her to reach people of all ages.
In addition to teaching, performing and writing, Shana Banana also had a TV segment on PBS called “Family Time on Daytime,” in which she would list fun things for families with children to do in the area. Darrow’s children appeared in a few episodes of the program and got to work closely with Shana Banana.
Darrow’s daughter, Alice, struggled with a lisp when she was younger, and it became a problem for her when she was filming the TV show. Shana comforted Alice and told her that she used to have a lisp too.
After they talked, Alice was finally able to answer Shana’s question: “What kind of shoes do bananas wear?”
“Slippers!” she yelled confidently.