On June 18, 2020, a video uploaded to Instagram showed Anthony Mmesoma Madu, then 11 years old, pirouetting on dirty concrete in West Lagos. He was barefoot and it was raining, but his grace, talent and passion were undeniable.
“With very little or no resources, our children train to be the best they can,” ballet teacher Daniel Owoseni Ajala wrote, alongside images. “Who wouldn’t be proud of them?” What teacher wouldn’t pray for students who come to class with such a desire to learn? Children ready to dance with or without conditions. Imagine what more we could achieve if we had more? DM for more info.
The video went viral. Within months, it had been viewed more than 20 million times. Madu has been offered several scholarships, including one at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet Theater in the United States. He is currently studying at a ballet school in Birmingham, UK.
Now, 19 months later, the Leap of Dance Academy experience since this video shows how social media has created huge opportunities for people across Africa who may never have had a way to have their talents valued beforehand, or even a means of discovering them. in the first place.
In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, more than one in three people use the Internet today, up from less than one in 100 in 2003, according tothe world bank. The Leap of Dance Academy is riding the wave of increased connectivity and now has over 119,000 subscribers on Instagram. Ajala, its founder, posts updates almost daily.
A 30-year-old business administration graduate, Ajala started the ballet academy in his own neighborhood of Ajangbadi, on the outskirts of Lagos, in 2017, after learning to dance by watching YouTube videos for the previous eight years . Ajala has since used Facebook to connect with ballet teachers around the world.
The roads around his house are potholed and covered in sand. When the car I was driving in got stuck, a group of locals came forward to push it away. Then Ajala came running along the road to rush me to school; his lesson had been interrupted and his students were waiting. He was clearly known. “I see you, I see you,” he told the children waving to him from the side of the road as we walked.
Ajala’s oldest student, Olamide Olawale, is 20 and now has over 8,450 Instagram Followers. She slept on the porch of her house, while others strolled around, some looking at a new shipment of gear donated by American pointe shoe maker Gaynor Minden. Ajala’s mother smiled at the gathered students.
The previous night, some members of the group had returned from Mali, where they performed for a few days. They video called the students they met on the trip from Ajala’s phone after I arrived, all shouting greetings at the small screen.
“Thanks to the viral video, it brought us a lot of opportunities, international travels,” Ajala explained. Still, he recalled he was hesitant to publish it because he feared it would reinforce the negative stereotypes many people have about his country. “A lot of people think nothing good comes out of Nigeria,” he said, but at the same time he wanted to show “the reality”.
In the aftermath of their internet fame, Ajala said, “stardom” was difficult. CNN, the BBC, The New York Times and The Guardian were among a slew of media outlets that featured the school of dance in the months that followed. Ajala had to be careful about children’s privacy and the amount of information available about them. Social media has “the good, the bad and the ugly,” Ajala continued. “You must use the good.”
In 2017, the Leap of Dance Academy had only five students. Today, Ajala refuses children, limiting admission to around 30, of which around ten are “professionals”. Those accepted must be “serious” and “committed” – not pushed by their parents or looking for the opportunities that might come from their newfound fame, he said. Students are taught for free.
Initially, it was difficult to attract young people. “Ballet is not really big here in Nigeria,” Ajala said. “A lot of people think it’s not very scriptural, it’s not decent. Some people say it’s demonic, it’s not Christian. And we try to reassure them that it’s not a bad art form.
Ajala explained that he tutors wealthier children from the more upscale areas of Lagos, using the money to support his work in Ajangbadi. The area is a low income area and the school in Ajala now provides food and help with school subjects as well as other forms of help.
Precious Duru (13) traveled to Italy last June to dance. “We use ballet to represent Nigeria,” she said proudly. “If you have talent, don’t hide it. Never give up.” She said she wanted to become a construction engineer when she was older.
Her 11-year-old sister Favour said she wanted to be a doctor but also “never stop dancing”.
“Ballet is very difficult, you have to put a lot of work into it,” said Daniella Nnamani, a 13-year-old wearing silver heart-shaped earrings, who started taking lessons in 2018 after heard about by a neighbor. She described her first attempt at pointe dancing, where “you can hurt yourself if you’re not strong.”
“I would like to tell the world that dance is really fun to learn, if you want to go far in dance you have to take it seriously,” she said, although her eventual dream is also to study dance. medicine.
Beauty Omondiagbe (15) said she had been dancing for three years and loved that it made her different from others in her neighborhood. Of the four, she was the only one who said she wanted to become a professional dancer – ideally in London.
Most of the opportunities that arise now are overseas, Ajala said, and that comes with its own set of challenges. Ajala advises her students to prioritize offers that will allow them to study or perform in other countries for a while and then return to Nigeria. “My main focus is actually to have dancers in Nigeria, not diaspora dancers. In the UK or much of the world, the competition is already huge. In Nigeria, you’ll get more name recognition.
While he hopes some of them will become professional dancers, he also believes they will benefit from ballet training no matter what they do later. Becoming “good humans” is the most important thing, he said.
Ajala said he is also aware that ballet has traditionally been very white, but he tells his students not to be put off by this. “If you have the ability to do so, you should be allowed to dream. No one should be allowed to feel worse because of their skin color. Let [them] be the one to decide if it is not a good choice for [them].”