How an 11-year-old Nigerian went from dancing barefoot in the streets to a viral ballet star

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A few months later he became a viral internet star and landed a prestigious scholarship to America.

Madu believed he was being taped for a study session by his ballet instructor, instead, footage of him practicing his moves was posted on social media and was shared widely across the world, with some of his fans, including Hollywood actors Cynthia Erivo and Viola Davis.

Many who watched were in awe of his ability to pull off his movements perfectly, even dancing barefoot on concrete and in the rain. Viola Davis was moved to write: “We create, we fly, we can imagine, we have unleashed passion and love… despite the brutal obstacles that have been submitted to us! Our people can fly !!! “

Harvey was so impressed with his talent that she tracked him down and offered him a scholarship with the American Ballet Theater where he will attend summer school in 2021.Nigerian producer Fade Ogunro, who runs the Bookings Africa platform, also offered to pay “for all of his formal training anywhere in the world until he graduates from Uni.”

In July, Madu also won the grand prize of the South African International Ballet Competition at a virtual event. The prize includes a scholarship to take dance lessons in the United States, accompanied by his dance teacher.

He told CNN he had no plans to go viral, but he’s glad he did.

“I was surprised because I didn’t have in mind that the video would go viral. The best part about being recognized is when I got a big award to go to the US because a lot of people don’t have that opportunity, but I thank goodness, ”he said.

Académie Leap of Dance

Madu says her interest in ballet grew after seeing “Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses” a 2006 cartoon about 12 princesses who share a passion for dancing.

“When I was watching the cartoon, I told my mom I wanted to do ballet,” he said.

He finally got the chance to learn dance after moving to Ojo, a suburb of Lagos with his mother, where they met Daniel Owoseni Ajala, founder of the Leap of Dance Academy.

Ajala founded the dance academy in 2017 and teaches ballet for free to children who have not been able to afford dance training since then.

When the self-taught instructor learned of Madu’s desire to dance, he said he encouraged Madu’s mother to enroll him.

It was during one of their sessions that he recorded Madu’s now viral dance video, telling CNN he never imagined it would circulate quickly.

“This (the video) wasn’t something we had planned to release like this. It was just something that was supposed to show movement corrections… It was bigger than I imagined, and I started getting calls. The celebrities were posting us, ”he says.

With schools closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in Nigeria, which so far has more than 54,000 cases of the virus, Ajala students practice dance techniques six days a week.

Madu says he remains committed to the craft and practices the techniques learned at the academy for about five hours a day.

“When I started I thought ballet was easy to dance, I didn’t know it was difficult. But I kept on working hard… every time he (Ajala) teaches us something, I go home to practice and come back to show him, ”Madu says.

A fascination with dance

Like Madu, Ajala was interested in ballet from a young age. As a teenager, he watched “Save The Last Dance,” a 2001 film and immediately became fascinated with dancing.

Now 29, he says he learned to dance ballet by watching tutorials on YouTube.
“I loved the movie and just wanted to know how everything that was done in the movie was done. I started searching YouTube and getting PDFs from Google to broaden my understanding of what I was seeing in the videos, ”he explained.

Daniel Ajala teaches 12 students to dance ballet in his home in Lagos

Although he never really wanted to become a teacher, he said that many years of practicing ballet techniques himself led him to fall in love with the art.

Leap of Dance Academy is housed at Ajala. Every day after school, his 12 students walk into his apartment, where he sets aside his furniture and spreads a sheet on the concrete floor to practice dancing.

One of his main challenges, he said, is not having a suitable space to practice: “Our children sometimes train on the bare floor, which is not suitable for dancers. But we just keep moving so that we don’t keep crying over things. we don’t, ”he said.

But despite the challenges, many of his students, like Madu, managed to excel in ballet.

‘Ballet is for girls’

When he started teaching ballet he said he was a troll because people thought he was meant for girls. “There is a perception that this is not an African dance. Being a dancer is worse, people think ballet is not for boys, ”he said.

Historically, the ballet began in the 17th century and was originally performed by royalty, including King Louis XIV, who was King of France from May 1643 to 1715.

Leap of Faith Academy students practice their dance techniques 6 days a week

However, in recent decades more women have joined and dominated the industry, adding to the belief that ballet is exclusive to women.

Madu also had to grapple with similar stereotypes. He said a lot of people still think he shouldn’t dance.

“When people see me they say ballet is for girls, sometimes it puts me off but I keep working hard and encouraging myself,” he said.

“I want to be different,” he added. “To be a ballet dancer so as not to be the same with others who want to be doctors, lawyers or bankers. ”

Madu also wants to help change the perception that ballet cannot thrive in places like Nigeria.

“I hope to be a professional ballet dancer and I want people to know that ballet can blow here in Nigeria. “

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