Despite never seeing a full-length ballet on stage, a teenager from the notorious Kuwinda slum in Nairobi has been awarded a place at London’s English National Ballet School and offered a scholarship.
17-year-old Joel Kioko took up dancing only three years ago after following a female cousin to ballet classes “to make a nuisance of himself”.
Emma Flett, whose Fleet Films recorded a short film about Kioko in April while he was in the UK for his audition said: “He only went along to annoy her before, effectively, gatecrashing the lessons.”
“I thought, what is this strange dance? It is not like Kenyan dancing. So I did not fall in love with ballet straight 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.”
– Joel Kioko recalling his first lessons in Nairobi
Now, Joel wants to show others that dance can offer a route out of poverty.
“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,” he said.
Kioko, was recommended to the ballet school by Cooper Rust, his American-born teacher in Nairobi.
While in London, the Kenyan met Tom Holland, star of the new Spider-Man film, whose acting breakthrough was in the stage version of Billy Elliot.
Holland is also an ambassador for the Nairobi-based charity the Lunchbowl Network, which looks after vulnerable youngsters and where Kioko now helps out.
Joel’s Story, to be screened at the ITV Studios in London on Thursday, will help to raise about £20,000 for Kioko’s living costs.
“It’s amazing that I learnt my dance moves here in London and you in Africa,” Holland says in the film. “But they are the same moves. An amazing connection.”