August 31st, 2020 / posted by paularath

Anthony Mmesoma Madu in the Leap of Dance Academy

“When I am dancing, I feel as though I am on top of the world,” said Anthony Mmesoma Madu in an interview with a Newsweek reporter.

You might be one of the 20 million-plus Instagram viewers who saw this charming 11-year-old dancing ballet in the rain in a sodden suburb of Lagos, Nigeria. His joy is unfettered as he pirouettes through the puddles.

Anthony’s is an amazing story. After that viral video in June, he was discovered by the American Ballet Theatre and was offered a full scholarship for a virtual summer training program. This has segued into a 2021 program in the U.S. through Ballet Beyond Borders.

Anthony learned to dance at the Leap of Dance Academy, owned and run by Daniel Owoseni Ajala. Bravo to this brave gentleman for introducing ballet to the children of the impoverished suburb of Ajangbadi, Ojo, west of Lagos.

Ballet must have been a tough sell for Mr. Ajala. It’s hard to imagine a more radical change from traditional West African Dance. While ballet is regimented and disciplined, West African dance is fluid and free flowing.

In a New York Times article by Noor Brara, Mr. Ajala said “In the beginning, people kept saying ‘What are they doing?!’ I had to convince them that ballet wasn’t a bad or indecent dance, but actually something that requires a lot of discipline that would have positive effects on the lives of their children outside the classroom. I always say, it’s not only about the dance itself – it’s about the value of dance education.

I lived in a suburb of Lagos called Apapa in 1973-74. At that time, there were open sewers; that may still be true in Ajangbadi. It was a challenging place to live, even for an expat with employment and the means to live in one of the more pleasant suburbs.

It was a military state and the men in uniform rode around in trucks and Jeeps with their rifles at the ready, always with menacing expressions and mean words. They would taunt me (visibly pregnant with Duncan at the time) when I tried to cross the street.

The corruption in Lagos was appalling. You couldn’t avoid it, and I mean that literally. If you wanted to drive legally, you had to pay dash (bribes) just to get the forms for the license. There weren’t many ways for a young dancer to get free of the slums in Nigeria.

Now a gifted 11-year-old has found his way out of Ajangbadi, all for the love of dance. What a joy!

Paula Rath

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Duncan Graham
September 1st, 2020 at 1:33 am

wow! beautiful.

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