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Nigerian ballet dancer Anthony Madu went viral for dancing in the rain. What came next was a story of resilience

Relocating to a foreign country, an unexpected vision diagnosis — nothing holds back the dancer with big dreams in Disney+ documentary "Madu."
Anthony Madu
Anthony Madu performing a ballet dance routine in front of his mother's shop in Okelola street in Ajangbadi, Lagos, on July 3, 2020.Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

When Anthony Madu dances, he “feels free.”

“Amazing,” he adds, closing his eyes as if imagining himself in motion. “Sometimes when I just do it, listening to certain music, it just feels free, like no one’s around. It just feels like I’m my own person. I’m not really thinking about anything else but just that moment.”

At 14 years old, the Nigerian ballet dancer’s life became the subject of the Disney+ documentary “Madu,” which is now available to stream. Ahead of the film's release, Madu spoke to TODAY.com over Zoom from the U.K, where he's attending the renowned Elmhurst Ballet School, to discuss his captivating story.

In 2020, at just 11 years old, Anthony went viral after his dance teacher posted a video of him doing pirouettes barefoot in the rain in the street of Lagos, Nigeria. TODAY even covered the initial viral video in August 2020.

The heartwarming clip caught the attention of director Matthew Ogens, who recruited Nigerian documentarian Joel Kachi Benson to bring Anthony’s story to life. What transpired was an unexpected journey filled with wonderful opportunities, unforeseen health issues, and a young boy discovering who he is in a world he never expected to be a part of.

I’m not really thinking about anything else but just that moment.”

Anthony Madu

In “Madu,” viewers are introduced to the young boy who discovered his passion for dance at the age of five. Despite being bullied for dancing ballet and the initial concern from his parents, Anthony persevered and his family eventually embraced his dream. They relocated to a new neighborhood so he could get formal training at Lagos Leap Dance Academy.

“When I was a kid, I remember I loved moving a lot and I really liked dance, but it wasn’t necessarily ballet,” Anthony tells TODAY.com. “There weren’t any dance schools around, so about three years after that I joined a dance school which was based on ballet, and I have been enjoying that ever since.”

After being moved by his viral video, Anthony and his family were contacted by Ogens, Benson and their team. The dancer was more than ready for his close up.

Anthony Madu
Anthony Madu during a performance for Camilla, Queen Consort's visit to Elmhurst Ballet School on March 14, 2023 in Birmingham, England.Frank Augstein / WPA Pool via Getty Images

“I was ready for it,” Anthony says of sharing his story with the world. “But then at the same time, kind of scared because it’s something that’s going to be out into the world and people watching it.”

Before the cameras rolled, the team spent time with Anthony and his family, building a friendship and sharing meals. “Part of our process as filmmakers are things that happen off camera,” Ogens says, explaining how it’s all about “gaining their trust.” He adds the family was really open and early on forgot about the cameras.

As filming started and progressed, so did unexpected opportunities and heartbreaking setbacks.

First, after Anthony's viral video, he received a scholarship offer from the American Ballet Theatre in New York. While filming, he earned a scholarship to the prestigious Elmhurst Ballet School in the U.K, where he's currently studying.

The directors say they had no involvement or influence over Anthony's decision on where to attend dance school. Ogens says that Disney+ greenlit the documentary before the young dancer even got a scholarship.

“So that’s why you see and hear that phone call when they’re talking to his mom about it. That was really happening in real time,” Ogens says.

Anthony Madu
Disney+

Anthony makes the big leap to leave his family and go to a country he's never been to. But, as he takes on the new opportunity, there's one thing heavily weighing on his mind: how to make sure he doesn't let his parents down.

Once at Elmhurst, Anthony navigates a world where he attempts to assimilate and meet people who aren't familiar with his culture. Yet, he establishes sweet and supportive friendships — and there's even one moment when one of his classmates, in an attempt to relate to Anthony, tells him he likes Bob Marley and asks if the reggae music icon and activist is from Nigeria. Cultural differences aside, that doesn't stop Anthony from making connections and even going on a date with a classmate.

Anthony’s resilience and determination of becoming a professional ballet dancer are soon challenged when viewers discover that he has vision issues. During a dance class, Madu tells an instructor that he has trouble seeing and it's later reveale that he’s largely blind in his right eye.

Anthony tells TODAY.com that since he was little he couldn't see properly.

“I didn’t tell anyone at that point because it didn’t feel like I should tell anyone,” he says. He eventually told his mom and had his eyes checked. But, he says, “There wasn’t really anything to do about it” at the time until he went to the U.K.

His vision diagnosis shocked the directors, who learned of Anthony’s vision problems when he brought it up during filming.

“It was a shock to everyone, the filmmakers, the school, Anthony, his mom. No one saw that coming,” Benson says, with Ogens adding, “We found out when you find out as an audience member in the film ... We’re outside, we’re looking at the monitor in that ballet class where you see something going on with his eyes.”

Anthony Madu
Matthew Ogen, Anthony Madu and Joel Kachi Benson at D23 Expo. The Walt Disney Company via Getty Images

There is nothing doctors can do about Anthony's vision. However, his eyesight isn't expected to get worse, they say in the film. From there, Anthony gets additional assistance from dance instructors to work through his vision impairment.

“I didn’t give up then, so I don’t see why I should give up now,” Anthony says in the film.

The directors call Anthony “a resilient kid” following the revelations, noting that he “wasn’t going to give up dancing, his passion.” Had they sensed him not wanting to continue filming, they would have respected his decision. “But it was never a question for him,” says Ogens.


I didn’t give up then, so I don’t see why I should give up now.”

Anthony madu


Following his diagnosis, he goes home for Easter break so he can “come back with renewed energy,” his teachers tell him.

Yet in Lagos, he faces additional hurdles. In an emotional moment with his parents, Anthony tells them he feels overwhelmed and needs to see a therapist. His parents, not understanding his requests, encourage him to see a prophet and find comfort in religion instead. Anthony breaks down in tears, overwhelmed by his emotions.

Anthony tells TODAY.com that he learned about the benefits of therapy and mental health while in the U.K. He says in Nigeria mental health “isn’t really focused on.”

There’s also the physical and emotional distance between him and his younger brother. Madu matriarch Ifeoma Madu tells Anthony in the film that he and his little brother need to “make peace” and spend time together before he returns to school. There’s an awkwardness between the two siblings, who now appear to have nothing in common.

When it's time to return to school, his mother tells him to take care of himself. His whole community is rooting for him.

When asked about the pressure he puts on himself, the now-14-year-old tells TODAY.com, “I feel like I kind of did that in the past. But now, I don’t think I have that much pressure on myself at the moment.”

Anthony Madu dancing in the streets of Ajangbadi, Nigeria.
Disney+

Madu says he felt like he had to be “really good for other people.”

“But then I realized that’s wrong. I should be wanting to be good for myself and not for other people,” he says. “Of course you want to get better at things, but you don’t need to do it just because other people want you to do it.”

When making the documentary, Benson says, “What shone through was (Anthony's) courage, his determination to want to pursue his dream.”

He adds that Anthony’s “biggest gift is his strength.”

“Remember, this is a kid who has been bullied and teased all of his life. He could have easily given up and said, ‘You know what, I’m going to play (soccer) with the boys. I’m going to do whatever everyone else wants me to do,’” Benson says. “But he chose to stick to this thing that he loved.”

Despite feeling that his eye may "end" his career, Madu wants viewers to be inspired by his story.

“What I want people to take away is that no matter what they want to do in life, they shouldn’t let any negative comments and stuff get in the way,” he wholeheartedly says. “Because at the end of the day it’s their choice, it’s what they want to do, and they should just really go for it. Never give up.”