When Anno’s Africa arrived in Nairobi in 2006 for our first pilot programme in St Johns Community school in Majengo there was no ballet to be found anywhere – not even for adults or in the smartest residential areas. The children in the slums had never even heard the word and so when Anna Nygh – our head of dance, and later a Trustee of the charity – suggested it she was met with a certain resistance with people asking how this ‘western’ dance style was relevant to children in Africa. “Wouldn’t we do far better to concentrate on traditional dance and not impose our ‘western’ culture where it was not wanted?” We did indeed instigate a traditional dance class, but Anna persevered with the idea of ballet and of course the children loved it. As soon as they put their second-hand donated dancewear (collected by Anna from the school where she was teaching in London) they became entranced.
Anna decided on the RAD dance syllabus because of its variety and the musicality it inspires in the children. The first year she began teaching pre-primary to 28 children, all girls. At the end of this year, charity director Bee Gilbert and head of Art, Marie Steinmann, happened to be at a concert in the Pangani hall in Mathare watching the music teacher Lulu perform at a youth festival. There they spotted Mike Wamaya, a young Kenyan contemporary dancer who had had a few months of ballet training. Anna met him and thought he would be perfect to teach the children so he joined the team and the following year he was enlisted to teach and learn at the same time. Anna trained Mike in the first RAD grades – keeping him one step ahead of the children – and Mike became an excellent dancer himself in the process. That year the programme expanded to include Valley View School where some boys joined the group – thanks to the presence of Mike perhaps – and the classes grew to over 40 in each school.