Entertainment / Arts And Books

Wire Service
2 minute read
7 Jul 2020
12:50 pm

Dance academy in Nigeria brings ballet to underprivileged children


Dancer Daniel Ajala says locals in the neighbourhood were sceptical at first about his plan to teach ballet.

A ballet student of the Leap of Dance Academy in a poor district Lagos, Nigeria. Picture: AFP / Benson Ibeabuchi

A small group of Nigerian girls and boys wearing leotards and leggings limber up in a spare room at a rundown primary school with patches of damp on the walls.

They launch into pirouettes and arabesques but have to make do without music. Today, the stereo is not working, because there is no electricity.

This is Leap of Dance Academy — a ballet school in a poor district of sprawling megacity Lagos that aims to bring classical dance to underprivileged children in Africa’s most populous nation.

Picture: AFP / Benson Ibeabuchi

The school is the brainchild of self-taught ballet aficionado Daniel Ajala, who opened its doors in late 2017 after studying the dance moves online and in books.

Now the academy — which Ajala funds out of his own pocket — has 12 pupils aged between six and 15.

The lessons are free and shoes and kit provided to the children, most of whom had never heard of ballet before they got involved.

Picture: AFP / Benson Ibeabuchi

“Ballet is for people who have money, who are very high class, because ballet is expensive,” Ajala told AFP.

“In this area, I know we can’t actually afford the luxury of ballet or dance education — so I think it’s a beautiful art to introduce to our people here.”

He says locals in the neighbourhood of Ajangbadi were sceptical at first about his plan to teach ballet.

Picture: AFP / Benson Ibeabuchi

“When we started ballet here, people were like ‘what are they doing? Is it not indecent? It’s not a Christian dance!'”

“We want to make sure to show them that this is not a bad dance — ballet is a very disciplined, forward dance that is very important in the growth of a child.”

Now after several years of training and effort, the dancers have gained more acceptance. And when they practice their moves outside around the area they now draw admiring — if sometimes still confused — glances.

Picture: AFP / Benson Ibeabuchi

Ballet has provided inspiration and a window into unknown cultures for 15-year-old student Olamide Olawole. She has even begun thinking of becoming a dance teacher herself.

“My dream is to make children around the world to be able to share the same dance experience,” she says. “I want them to be able to express their feelings through dance.”

Ifoma Madu watches on with pride as her son Anthony Madu performs a grand jete leap alongside his classmates.

“I feel great, I feel wonderful, I’m very excited,” she told AFP. “When I see him dancing, it gives me joy.”

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