Since being uploaded to Instagram in June 2020, the video was watched more than 330K times and shared across social media platforms.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 12, 2020. It has since been updated.
Anthony Mmesoma Madu, an 11-year-old boy from Nigeria, has won the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to his undying passion for dance. The talented youngster made rounds on social media after a video of him showing off his impressive ballet skills barefoot—seemingly undeterred by the rain pouring down on him—touched hearts across the globe. Since being uploaded to Instagram in June 2020, the video was watched more than 330,000 times and shared across social media platforms. It eventually reached the eyes of Cynthia Harvey, the artistic director of the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Dance in New York, who was quite impressed by the young dancer.
Reminds me of the beauty of my people. We create, soar, can imagine, have unleashed passion, and love....despite the brutal obstacles that have been put in front of us! Our people can fly!!! ❤ pic.twitter.com/LNyWD2ZoU0— Viola Davis (@violadavis) June 24, 2020
"A friend who lives in the UK sent me the video," Harvey told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Within a day, I was trying to find him." She managed to track down Anthony and his teacher, Daniel Ajala, within two days and soon after, arranged for full scholarships so the budding ballet dancer could attend the three-week intensive program, ABT virtual Young Dancer Summer Workshop. ABT also included Ajala in its National Training Curriculum, a two-week course intended to help teachers polish their skills.
Explaining why she was so moved by Anthony's video, Harvey—who is a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre—explained: "Here, we're complaining about not being able to open our buildings. But in that video, I saw a boy who was a perfect example of the tenacity someone can have when they have love and a dream. It was immediately obvious how much determination he had." According to The Washington Post, the ABT scholarship isn't the only opportunity to have come searching for Anthony since the video took off online. The youngster is set to train in the United States on a scholarship from Ballet Beyond Borders next year.
"When my friends see me dancing, they feel like, 'what is this boy doing, is he doing a foreign dance?'" he said. "Now I have won a grand prize to go to the U.S... I will be [on] the plane and this is what I am waiting for, and ballet has done it for me." The video also sparked a flood of donations to Ajala's Leap of Dance Academy where he teaches his students at no charge. "I saw the need to bring a form of art that shows discipline, dedication, and commitment," he said. "Students who are able to learn all of these can... transfer (them) into other spheres of their lives."
The 29-year-old opened the Leap of Dance Academy in his own tiny home in late 2017 after being inspired by the movie "Save the Last Dance," which featured equal doses of ballet and hip-hop with a smattering of jazz dance. He taught himself ballet with the help of YouTube and a trio of supportive ballet teachers from New York, Michigan and California and decided to train aspiring dancers in his country. Every day, Ajala pushes aside his furniture and turns the space into a dance studio, laying sheets of cardboard on a concrete pad outside when the class needs more space. That’s where Anthony’s video was shot.
"People say that you can never do ballet the way it is done abroad because ballet is not an African dance, but for me, it's about making the art form our own," Ajala told Vogue in a recent interview over Zoom. "There's a saying here that nothing makes a teacher happier than a student who wants to learn. Can you see what's going on behind me? There's a torrential downpour outside and they're getting ready for class. Who wouldn't be proud of these children?" Harvey agrees. "A child who shows this much dedication, you just have to help," she said. "If there is anything the world has taught us, it’s that we have to inspire all sorts of people and that we all have a lot to learn from one another. Providing opportunities for Daniel and Anthony is the right thing to do."