A Nigerian boy who charmed Internet viewers with a video of his deft, barefoot ballet skills on the muddied backstreets of Lagos has been given a scholarship to the US. Anthony Madu’s story has been compared with that of the fictitious Billy Elliot, another 11-year-old boy who defied local social conventions to pursue something that he says makes him feel “on top of the world”. Anthony, however, never had to hide his talent from a disapproving parent, although he admits that his parents did once want him to become a priest.
The video of him performing pirouettes and leaps in a poor part of the Nigerian megacity became a viral hit in June. Cynthia Erivo, the British actor and singer, also of Nigerian heritage, was so moved by the boy’s talents she connected him and his teacher with the American Ballet Theatre. “They’re in Nigeria. I happen to be Nigerian as well. This felt like a kismet moment,” she told the American broadcaster NBC.
Anthony will receive online, virtual training over the summer before heading to the US next year on a scholarship to continue his craft in New York. “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 US. I will be in the plane and this is what I am waiting for, and ballet has done it for me.”
Anthony’s fame has also been a boon for the small, self-funded Leap of Dance Academy in Lagos and its founder Daniel Ajala Owoseni, who has seen a stream of donations flow in as a result of the video he shot. He started the academy in Ajangbadi, on the western outskirts of Lagos, in 2017 after studying ballet online and in books. The lessons are free and students are provided with shoes and attire; luxuries beyond the financial reach of people living in the neighborhood.
“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.” It was, however, quite a shock to many. “When we started ballet here, people were like ‘what are they doing? Is it not indecent? It’s not a Christian dance!” The academy had 12 pupils, aged six to 15, in July but Mr Owoseni hopes to increase that number with the donations he has received.
Anthony’s mother, Ifoma, couldn’t be prouder. Last month, watching as her son performed in front of his classmates, she said: “When I see him dancing, it gives me joy.”
For some couples, lockdown has provided an opportunity to spend more quality time together, free from the distractions of social events and other people. For others, it has led to tension and arguments — and for teenage turtles, the issues have been no different.
Cammy and Ernie, two of Sea Life Manchester’s giant green turtles, had built up a promising relationship with proud staff hopeful that they might breed. But instead of using the months away from prying visitors to deepen their affection, a rift has grown. Cammy has been responding to her suitor’s advances with biting and Ernie, growing frustrated, has been getting more than friendly with the rocks in their spacious tank.
Concerned staff have now turned love doctors and have been helping their star attractions rekindle their relationship with fancy meals, date activities, and even relaxing massages.
“The change in Cammy and Ernie’s behavior is quite significant,” said Brendan Malone, a senior curator at Sea Life Manchester. “When the pair were first introduced some three years ago, we had high hopes they would form a close bond.” It was soon after lockdown when Cammy, 19, began rejecting the hitherto welcome advances of Ernie, 17. “Our expert creature welfare team, which has been in the aquarium daily caring for all our creatures’ needs, has noted a distinct change in activity including clear displays of standoffish behavior from Cammy, and Ernie getting a little frisky with the rocks,” Mr Malone said.
Concerned staff have been helping their star attractions rekindle their relationship with relaxing massages.
Date nights arranged for the pair have involved their favorite meal of Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli, all served at a distance to help prevent them from bickering. Toys have been provided to encourage them to play together, including ice blocks. Other enrichment techniques have been used, including “relaxing shell brushes” to help in reducing any tension.
There could be several reasons for their falling out, according to Mr Malone, but lockdown with its absence of visitors and lack of interaction with the public is a strong contender. “Cammy and Ernie are both big show-offs and love the attention they receive from guests,” he said. “Recent weeks have, however, seen Cammy retreat, with Ernie going from being her number one playmate and partner in crime to number one annoyance, not unlike some human relationships.” Since the return of visitors, their behavior has become more normal and staff “have high hopes they will rekindle their love”, he said. If not, more drastic options, even a trial separation, will have to be considered.
Sea Life Manchester reopened to visitors on July 4 with strict safety measures. Cammy was brought there in 2017 as a mate for Ernie, who was already a resident turtle. With both reaching sexual maturity, it was hoped that they would exhibit breeding behavior and help to avoid Cammy becoming egg bound.
Green turtles are among the largest species of sea turtles in the world, weighing up to 50 stone (317 kilograms, or just under 700 pounds). Human activity is a big threat to the species in the wild, with pollution indirectly harming turtles. Many die after being caught in fishing nets and property development is a significant cause of habitat loss.