SEATTLE, Washington — Where ballet meets West Africa, Daniel Owoseni Ajala created the Leap of Dance Academy, a dance school in Badagry, Nigeria. “Badagry is a coastal town approximately six hours from the center of the metropolis Lagos.” Ajala opened the academy for those who could not afford ballet classes like the organization’s founder. In the last three years, the academy has provided dance lessons for kids in West Africa.
The Founder of the Leap of Dance Academy
Ajala taught himself to dance at a young age but faced many hardships throughout his career. In Nigeria, ballet is not a traditional African dance form. Thus, the organization faced a level of scrutiny until being culturally accepted. However, Ajala’s love for dance was never hampered by the struggles he faced. He was constantly denied academy acceptance and was unable to attain an international scholarship despite his impeccable dance skills. He then decided to alter his dream into that of opening a ballet studio. This is how the Leap of Dance Academy was born.
Founded only three years ago, the academy gives ballet lessons to indigenous individuals in West Africa. Ajala began teaching out of his home when he first opened the academy. Now, he holds weekly classes in a free space given to him by a local businesswoman. Faced with little resources and tough environments, the kids dance on and strive to be the best they can be. In one interview, Ajala stated, “For me, it’s about creating a Nigerian identity around the trappings of traditional ballet.”
Changing the way ballet is traditionally seen is important to bring more inclusivity and global support to those who have the talent and deserve to be seen. This is something the Leap of Dance Academy is working to accomplish.
Social Media Attention
Since it was uploaded onto social media, the video of a young boy pirouetting in the rain has been viewed millions of times by people all over the world. In a time of unsettling news flooding social media pages, this was a shred of light in the dark. Anthony Mmesoma Madu is the 11-year-old boy and star of the viral video. He is one of twelve kids in the Leap of Dance Academy.
Due to the help of fundraising and donations from the Traveling Tutu, a Florida-based nonprofit, Ajala has been able to offer free costumes and tuition to his students. The video circling the internet has also encouraged other performers to lend a hand creating more space for growth, scholarships and advancement opportunities for the students. Madu has particularly benefitted from his participation in the Leap of Dance Academy. He recently accepted a scholarship with the American Ballet Theater school in New York.
Due to its increased attention on social media, the Leap of Dance Academy has been able to perform at private functions, such as weddings and church gatherings. The most famous performance was opening for Oladehine Felusi at the African Fashion Week Nigeria. This is a clothing brand that is well known for its “ethically made batik”, intricately decorated pieces of fabric. In appreciation for the young ballerinas, the label has since made dance gear for the Leap Academy of Dance.
Ajala wanted to provide his students with opportunities he wasn’t able to have. With his teachings, discipline and tons of support, his students are learning an uncommon dance in Nigeria and giving it a whole new meaning. Ballet has never been more beautiful and personal than seen at the Leap of Dance Academy. This talented group of dancers has shown how small projects can capture international attention.
– Sienna Bahr