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Memoirs of a Kenyan Ballerina

Njoki Wairua has been dancing nearly all her life having started at the tender age of six. The biochemistry student at the University of Nairobi opens up to us about her limitless world of dancing.

Anyone who has met 23-year-old Njoki Wairua will agree that she is a fireball: high spirited, lively, bold and zealous with any mission she takes on. Her current life mission is to be a professional dancer, so you can imagine how animatedly she talks about all things dance.

Whenever she starts to describe the possibilities the craft opens up for her, she gets overwhelmed and deliriously punctuates her descriptions with, “It’s limitless!” A phrase she repeats so often during our interview, that I too start to imagine the world through dance.

Because she is also studying for a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Nairobi, she has labelled herself ‘The dancing biochemist’. A moniker which is not only her brand, but a way of inspiring other girls out there to pursue what they love, something that takes strength and sacrifice. “I especially want to make them see that you do not need to booty shake to dance!” she says disapprovingly.

Hers is atypical of a dancer’s story, as it was not until completing her high school studies at Kianda School in 2010 that she took dancing seriously. Her first ‘inspiration’ was drawn -way back at the age of six- from watching Catholic liturgical dances in church, which she would later attempt at home with her two sisters.

They soon fell by the wayside, but Njoki had caught the bug. She continued with it, self-training all through primary and high school. “My pivotal moment however, was in 2004 when I watched Ciara’s 1, 2 Step music video. It was mind-blowing seeing a woman dancing hip hop, and being so good at it,” she recalls.

“I can’t say I have dancing genes in me,”  she says when asked where the urge to dance came from, though she says her father, who is also her manager, can bust a move or two. “He is the one who taught me how to moonwalk,” she says with a laugh.  Joining The Academy of Dance and Art, the largest performing arts school in East Africa, in 2011 is what led to Njoki setting her mind about making a career out of dance.

“Before, I loved dancing but only as a hobby I was passionate about. I had no path to follow nor destination to get to. But at the school, so much was opened up that I realised my dance journey was only beginning. I started with Jazz Dance, which I did for two years. Doing well in the International Society Teachers of Dance (ISTD) exams gave me the confidence to switch to ballet.”

According to Njoki, all good dancers have done some training in ballet, and this was part of what motivated her to do it. She needed a mountain of faith however, given that she was starting out on one of the hardest dance styles at 21. She had to take a break six months into it because of her degree, and she says getting back into it the next year was tough but hardwork is the name of the game.

“It has taken a lot of sacrifice. I train three days a week. If I didn’t have my degree on this other side, I would be at the Academy daily.”  Njoki loves being amongst the dance academy. She calls them her ‘dance family’. From the teachers to the syllabus, it is clear how much she enjoys training there by the way she gushes about it.

Probably one of the reasons she was named their brand ambassador in December 2014, something she says really validated her. “Here I was among people who had been training professionally all their lives and they saw me fit to represent them!” she says appreciatively.

This, coupled with acing her first ever ballet exam, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) in June this year has given her the motivation to continue with it, despite being “tempted to throw in the towel so many times this year alone.”  Low moments aside, her dance career has seen many highlights over the years in and out of the academy.

From performing in numerous concerts over the years and ambassadorial work at Expos, to teaching. She has even been featured in a dance TV show promotion video. Through her brand as The Dancing Biochemist she has started a movement #TLTD; Touching Lives Through Dance, which she hopes to use to inspire young people to follow their dreams.

One day, she says, she will write a book about her journey. “Maybe I’ll call it ‘Memoirs of a Kenyan Ballerina!” After all, life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain  As an ambassador, she is learning what it takes to run a school, which is what she would like her career to lead up to.

“Or I could teach, or I could choreograph, or I could work with NGOs to come up with a ‘No twerk’ campaign,” she says getting excited, “It’s limitless!”

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