A 17-year-old Kenyan boy from Kuwinda slum in the capital Nairobi has won a scholarship to join the prestigious English National Ballet School in London, U.K.
Joel Kioko, commonly referred to as Kenya’s most promising ballet dancer, has been awarded the full-scholarship for his exemplary ballet dancing skills, according to The Sunday Times.
The young ballet sensation is known for his gravity-rebuffing turns, which he hopes to use to show his peers that dancing can be both a path out of poverty and a labor of love.
“The kids back home don’t have anything. So I’m an example to them. And, if I mess up, I think they’re going to be just done for. That’s the pressure I feel,” Kioko was quoted by The Sunday Times.
The young athletic dancer, who has more recently trained in the U.S., shares parallels with his idol the Cuban ballet prodigy Carlos Acosta.
Luck in the Unexpected Places
Kioko took up ballet three years ago when he followed a female cousin to ballet classes in Nairobi. He says his main intention was “to make a nuisance of himself”.
In fact, his first thought when he saw people dancing ballet was, “what is this strange dance?” He even admits that he didn’t fall in love with the dance right away.
“But when we did the men’s class and I could jump and turn, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.
Kioko, who was recommended to the ballet school by his American-born teacher in Nairobi, Cooper Rust, grew up in the notorious Kuwinda slum in Karen, Nairobi, where more than 2,000 people were recently left homeless after a fire gutted down their shacks.
He, like hundreds of other Kenyan teenagers currently training in different slums within Nairobi, hopes to use ballet to better his life.
While in the UK for his audition in April, Kioko met Tom Holland, star of the latest Spiderman film, whose acting career was, to a large extent, propelled by the stage version of Billy Elliot.
Holland has been taking care of many vulnerable Kenyan children, mainly from the slums, through his Nairobi-based charity organization Lunchbowl Network, where Kioko now works as an assistant.
Kioko has recorded a short documentary about his life and his recent tour to London, which will be screened at the ITV Studios in London on Thursday to help raise at least £20,000 for his upkeep during his studies at the ballet school.
by Fredrick Ngugi