Nigeria academy looks to spread ballet among Lagos poor

Chinemere Duru practices a pirouette while the other students wait for their turn at the Leap of Dance Academy in Ajangbadi, Lagos, on July 3, 2020. The Leap of Dance Academy is a ballet school in a poor district of sprawling megacity of Lagos that aims to bring classical dance to underprivileged children in Africa's most populous nation. The school is the brainchild of self-taught ballet lover Daniel Ajala, who opened its doors in late 2017 after studying the dance moves online and in books.
Chinemere Duru practices a pirouette while the other students wait for their turn at the Leap of Dance Academy in Ajangbadi, Lagos, on July 3, 2020. The Leap of Dance Academy is a ballet school in a poor district of sprawling megacity of Lagos that aims to bring classical dance to underprivileged children in Africa's most populous nation. The school is the brainchild of self-taught ballet lover Daniel Ajala, who opened its doors in late 2017 after studying the dance moves online and in books.
Image: AFP/ BENSON IBEABUCHI

A small group of Nigerian girls and boys wearing leotards and leggings limber up in a spare room at a run-down 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.

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.

"Ballet is for people who have money, who are very high class, because ballet is expensive," said Ajala.

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

"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.

"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.

A student of the Leap of Dance Academy, Olamide Olawale, performs a dance routine in Okelola street in Ajangbadi, Lagos, on July 3, 2020.
A student of the Leap of Dance Academy, Olamide Olawale, performs a dance routine in Okelola street in Ajangbadi, Lagos, on July 3, 2020.
Image: AFP/ BENSON IBEABUCHI

Ballet has provided an inspiration and window onto 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 said.

"When I see him dancing, it gives me joy."


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