If you were to describe 11-year-old Nigerian dancer Anthony Mmesoma Madu in only a few words, graceful and ethereal would be apt descriptors. The young performer has leaped over hurdles of stereotypes to become an accomplished dancer and, recently, a viral sensation. Back in June, the Leap of Dance Academy (the school that Madu attends as one of only 12 students) posted a video that provided a glimpse of the young artist in his element.
In the video, a barefooted Madu exhibits a mesmerizing dedication to his craft. With the backdrop of rapidly falling rain, each of Madu’s swift steps and steady turns—on solid concrete—beckons feelings of inspiration and joy. Despite growing up in a culture that is disapproving of boys in ballet and having parents envisioning his future as a priest, the young artiste wasn’t dissuaded from his true passion: dance. “When I am dancing, I feel as if I am on top of the world,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Madu’s dance video has amassed more than 15 million views and has gotten the attention and praise of celebrities such as award-winning actress Viola Davis. But the video has also gotten the attention of a particularly important figure: Cynthia Harvey, the artistic director of New York’s American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Dance. Harvey was so moved by the drive and tenacity that the young dancer displayed that she offered him a full scholarship for a three-week virtual summer dance workshop taught by the American Ballet Theater. (The scholarship includes access to the internet as well.) The viral video has also caused an increase of outside financial support towards Mudu’s dance academy, which is specifically geared towards not only offering free ballet lessons to Madu and his classmates, but also combating gender stereotypes concerning dance. (You can help support the Leap of Dance Academy through their GoFundMe campaign.)
In 2021, Madu will train in the United States at Ballet Beyond Borders on a scholarship. The young dancer is ecstatic to receive all the support and opportunities but is also prepared to respond to those who still think negatively of his love of ballet. “When my friends see me dancing,” he says, “they feel like, what is this boy doing, is he doing a foreign dance? Now I have won a grand prize to go to the U.S. … I will be in the plane and this is what I am waiting for, and ballet has done it for me.”