Young Nigerian lives dream of being a ballet dancer

By Leslie FAUVEL
Nigeria Anthony Madu attends a prestigious dance school in Britain.  By Benson Ibeabuchi AFPFile
MAR 29, 2024 LISTEN
Anthony Madu attends a prestigious dance school in Britain. By Benson Ibeabuchi (AFP/File)

After one viral video in 2020, Nigerian Anthony Madu went from pirouetting on the dusty streets of Lagos to dancing in the corridors of a prestigious British dance school.

Madu's extraordinary story, which has seen him become a celebrity and even receive a handshake from Queen Camila, has been documented for the silver screen and was to be released on Disney+ on Friday.

The documentary follows the teenager over a year, between 2021 and 2022, when he leaves Nigeria for Birmingham's Elmhurst Ballet School.

"I really feel really proud of myself, but it's also surreal at the same time to see yourself in a movie as to me it's just my life," Madu told AFP.

"I often think why me and what if the video of me dancing hadn't gone viral? I think it must have been faith," he added.

Madu was spotted by Elmhurst Ballet School after a video of him pirouetting in a disadvantaged area in Lagos, a city of 20 million people, went viral.

He has since been nicknamed the "Nigerian Billy Elliot" in reference to the 2000 film of the same name in which a working-class British boy develops a passion for ballet.

"I feel a sense of freedom and that I am where I am meant to be at this point in my life," Madu told AFP.

'I have a lot of dreams'

However, Madu's journey to success has come with some bumps along the way, especially as the cultural gap widens between him and his family at home in Nigeria.

"You talk like a white man," Madu's mother told him over the phone -- referring to a change in accent after a few months in Britain.

After she offers to take him to church when he goes on vacation back home to Lagos, Madu tells his mother angrily: "I need a therapist, not a prophet".

At the age of just 14, Madu has no limit to his dreams.

"I don't know what the future holds for me... I have a lot of dreams... that I want to experience in my life. What I do know is that Nigeria will always be my home. I hold Nigeria and my family close to my heart," Madu told AFP.

The documentary, "Madu", was directed by Nigerian director Joel Kachi Benson and American director Matthew Ogens.

"This story is like a miracle, no one saw it coming. To the kids: don't be afraid to dream, your aspirations are very valid, don't let anyone say it's impossible," Benson told AFP.