An 11-year-old Nigerian boy went viral this summer when millions of people watched a video of him dancing ballet barefoot in the rain — and now the talented youngster has secured a scholarship to New York’s prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Anthony Mmesoma Madu from Lagos captivated social media users — including celebrities like Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo — with his dedication to the dance, and his ability to pull of stunning moves in the rain without any shoes on.
Now, thanks to the international attention the video has received, the pre-teen will train ABT online this summer as he prepares to travel to the US for more training in 2021.
Mastering ballet is difficult even in a proper environment with the right footwear, but Anthony showed in the viral video that he can pull of a beautiful pirouette anywhere, at any time.
In the clip, he is seen outside his dance studio, Leap of Dance Academy, practicing on muddy pavement that is wet from rain. He’s barefoot, in shorts and a tank top, but dances masterfully, spinning, leaping, and doing arabesques.
‘Ballet is my life. When I am dancing, I feel as if I am on top of the world,’ he told Reuters.
‘Any time my mom sends me on an errand, I dance ballet before I go to that place and it makes me feel very, very happy. I so much love ballet.’
Social media users were impressed, with Cynthia Erivo singing his praises.
‘They’re in Nigeria. I happen to be Nigerian as well. And I was like, this felt like a kismet moment,’ the actress, who reached out and connected with him, told NBC News. ‘I think it’s extremely important because I think boys are not encouraged to do this incredibly hard craft that actually encourages strength and stamina and beauty.’
‘Reminds me of the beauty of my people,’ Viola Davis added on Twitter. ‘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!!!’
One person who saw the clip was Cynthia Harvey, the artistic director of the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Dance in New York.
‘A friend who lives in the UK sent me the video,’ she told the Cincinnati Enquirer. ‘Within a day, I was trying to find him.’
She managed to track him down through his teacher, 29-year-old Daniel Ajala Owoseni who founded the Leap of Dance Academy in 2017.
Harvey helped Anthony get a full scholarship to ABT’s virtual three-week Young Dancer Summer Workshop, as well as internet access so he can attend remotely.
Then, next year, he’ll travel to the US to train further with a scholarship from Ballet Beyond Borders.
‘When my friends see me dancing, they feel like, what is this boy doing, is he doing a foreign dance?’ he told Reuters. ‘Now I have won a grand prize to go to the U.S. in the year 2021. I am very, very happy about that. I will be in the plane and this is what I am waiting for, and ballet has done it for me.’
Anthony’s parents wanted him to become a priest, but they’re supportive of his dance dreams.
His mother, Ifeoma Madu, told BBC News that she has ‘joy’ when she sees him dance, and advises other parents to ‘give their full support’ to their talented children so they can ‘go far.’
Anthony’s school and teacher have also benefited from the attention. Owoseni, his instructor, will participate in a National Training Curriculum, which teaches instructors.
He is also getting donations, which helps because he teaches his 12 students for free and doesn’t actually have a dedicated class space.
Owoseni wasn’t able to learn to dance in a ballet school like his students. After watching Save the Last Dance when he was 13, he wanted to learn — but couldn’t attend the few pricey schools in Lagos, so he taught himself from YouTube videos.
Now, he wants to bring the skills he’s learned to others and promote ballet in the region.
‘I saw the need to bring a form of art that shows discipline, dedication and commitment,’ he told Reuters. ‘Students who are able to learn all of these can … transfer (them) into other spheres of their lives.
‘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,’ he told Vogue.
‘There’s a saying here that nothing makes a teacher happier than a student who wants to learn.’