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Seriously on pointe: Fantastic African dancers you need to know

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There’s a lot to celebrate about the art form of dance. That’s why we want to highlight some African dancers who are not only changing the dance world, but whose own lives were changed by it.

1. Michaela DePrince


via GIPHY

DePrince became an orphan at 3 years old after both of her parents died in Sierra Leone’s civil war. The orphanage caretakers called her the “devil’s child” because of her vitiligo — a skin condition that results in light blotches on her skin.

One day, she found a magazine at the orphanage gate with a ballerina on the cover. She ripped out the cover and kept the image, viewing it as a symbol of freedom. “What really struck me the most was that I remembered she looked so happy,” DePrince says in her Tedx Talk. “I hadn’t been happy in a long time. So I thought to myself, you know, if she’s happy because this is what she’s doing, then maybe I can be happy, too, someday.”

DePrince hopes to inspire others to achieve their dreams, despite the obstacles they face.

“I want to encourage young people to aspire to dream. I want people to understand that it is okay to be different. It is okay to stand out … No matter what circumstances you are under, no matter how poor or how sad you are at any given moment, believe and dare to dream. Dare to push boundaries. Dare to be different. Dare to stand out.”

2. W-Tofo


via GIPHY

Pantsula dancers know how to command an audience, and use that talent to make a statement. Pantsula dance has a history of being used for social commentary, from resistance against apartheid to spreading awareness of AIDS.

Pantsula made its way to the world stage in 2011 when Beyoncé released “Run the World (Girls).” The music video featured Mario Buce and Xavier Campione, who make up the Mozambican dance group W-Tofo. They were invited to star in the music video after Beyoncé saw a video of them dancing at a wedding.

The group first formed in 2008 and were well known in Mozambique before the music video, but have gained international recognition since the release of the video.  

3. Joel Kioko


via GIPHY

Kenya’s rising ballet prodigy, Joel Kioko, grew up in one of Nairobi’s poorer communities, Kuwinda.

He discovered his passion at age 13 through Artists for Africa, a non-profit that helps children in poverty experience the arts. In three short years, Kioko has accomplished a great deal, including training with the Carolina Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet, and performing a solo routine in the Kenya National Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker.” He hopes his hard work will allow him to help his family out of Kuwinda.

Kioko doesn’t only plan to help his family, but intends to uplift his whole community. He dreams of opening a dance studio in his hometown to get children off the street and give them something to work towards.

4. Dreamcatchers


via GIPHY

If anyone deserves to become Instagram famous, it’s the Dreamcatchers. This ten-member dance troupe is from Ikorodu in Lagos, Nigeria, but have recently become known by the whole world.

Their Instagram biography calls them “ex-street kids.” Their instructor, Seyi Oluyole, has also experienced homelessness, which is why she helps the Dreamcatchers. She teaches the kids to dance, under one condition: They must go to school. For the past four years, they have been working hard to get an education and perfect their incredible dance skills.  

They promote themselves through social media, and are one of three nominees for the Best Creative Social Enterprise Award from the African Creative and Exhibition Awards.

In March, pop artist Rihanna celebrated becoming the first female artist to reach 2 billion streams on Apple Music by posting a video of some girls from the Dreamcatchers dancing. Their popularity quickly skyrocketed, expanding their opportunities to pursue their passion.

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