Beginning from when he was very small, Anthony Mmesoma Madu has loved to dance. In June, the world took notice of the young Nigerian ballet dancer. A one-minute video of Anthony dancing barefoot as a light rain falls went viral on social media when it was posted on June 18. In the two months since, Anthony and his ballet school, Leap of Dance Academy, have gone from anonymity to international recognition.

After Cynthia Harvey, director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet Theater  in New York City, watched Anthony’s viral video, she offered the young ballet dancer a full scholarship to participate in an online summer programme. For two weeks, Anthony practised with the American Ballet Theater via video link, learning and performing all the way from Lagos. He finished these online courses on August 21.

Anthony has been passionate about dancing from a very young age, he explained in a video produced by Leap of Dance.
Growing up as a kid I used to watch cartoons that did dance and ballet, and it made me love ballet. People make fun of me because they think that ballet is only for girls and not for boys. Ballet has changed my life. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

At Leap of Dance Academy, I participated in an international ballet competition and I won a grand prize to go to the US in 2021.

Anthony’s ballet teacher Daniel Owoseni Ajala, founder of Leap of Dance Academy, spoke with the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the American Ballet Theater course in which the young dancer participated.
Anthony had an online class that’s been very, very amazing. It was an online training. It was really everything: it was ballet class, it was bar and centre and conditioning and pliés, a lot of that.

It's very good to have different teachers. Being self-trained, there is a limit to which I can go. Some of our girls are also in other summer programmes. Being able to have all of these amazing professional teachers who are coming to teach our kids is just a dream come true. Because there's always a need for a student to learn from a more advanced teacher. 

And having [offers for] all these summer workshops and intensive programmes is great. If you don't do all these things, the children will not be able to work in the majority of competitions.
Anthony execcutes a backbend during  one of his courses. Courtesy of Leap of Dance Academy.

'This shows the power of social media. Don't stop working because you never know when an opportunity is going to come'

The international recognition sparked by the video transformed not just Anthony’s reality, but also that of the small dance school on the outskirts of Lagos. Since the school attracted attention on social media in the last few months, ballet schools and companies from across the world have offered scholarships and courses to help these young Nigerian dancers. 

Before this summer, Leap of Dance Academy was relatively unknown. Ajala founded the ballet school in 2017 with the goal of helping students with few means to learn to dance. There is no cost of attendance. Currently, Ajali holds classes for his 12 students in his apartment in Ajangbadi, Ojo, west of Lagos.
Anthony dancing at the current studio at Ajala's apartment. Ajala hangs brightly coloured chiffon from the walls to brighten up the room. Photo courtesy of Leap of Dance.
Three students at Leap of Dance Academy posing in the studio in Ajala's home. 
 
Ajala spoke about the school’s newfound fame with the FRANCE 24 Observers team.
Receiving all this media attention, it's been very exciting, but also very overwhelming. It is good that the kids get some good exposure because obviously ballet is not Nigerian, and there is a limit which I can teach my children. Foreign schools give me opportunities for them.

The kids are young, so we haven't made decisions yet about which countries kids will go to. These are life-changing decisions. But we received a lot of offers from US schools, the UK, one from Zurich and Germany. Then we have one from Brazil and one from South Africa.  

We would really like to have our own studio because this is limiting us from doing what we really want to do. And I want to facilitate these international partnerships.

This shows the power of social media. I just want everyone to keep on working hard and not stop working, because you never know when an opportunity is going to come.

This article was written by Sophie Stuber.