BY COOPER RUST (shared via email 2016)
Joel Kioko comes from a slum in Nairobi called Kuwinda just between Karen and Kibera. He was brought up together with his sister by his single mother who is working as a kindergarten assistant in a low income Kenyan government school.
Joel started dancing with Cooper Rust in January 2014, after an older student of Cooper, Annabel Shaw, conducted an Outreach dance program at a Kenyan government school and saw him leap across the floor. He was 13 then and had not had any contact with classical ballet before. There was no dance technique, but his natural ability and passion for movement was blatantly obvious.
That week Cooper invited him to join one of her classical ballet classes with the parents of Annabel, Tonya and Nigel Shaw, offering to pay for the tuitions. Three months later he participated in the Royal Academy of Dance Grade 3 exams and received a 73% mark which is a “Merit”.
The following year Joel advanced to Grade 4 & 5 at the DANCE CENTRE KENYA where Cooper Rust is the Artistic Director. In his RAD exams he received distinctions in both grades, with the highest scores of the entire school). He started dancing Pas de Deux with 12-year old partner Lucile Plumbe.
In the summer of 2015, he went to the University of South Carolina summer program, where he was put in the second to highest level and given multiple opportunities to do lead roles in their end of summer performance.
4 months after that Cooper Rust set Kenya's first ever full length Nutcracker Ballet, with him dancing the Nutcracker/Sugar Plum Cavalier in the Kenyan National Theatre.
Joel has now been accepted on full tuition and boarding scholarship at the Cincinnati Ballet for a summer program the company hosts for up and coming talents. He will leave Kenya on June 10th 2016 and stay in Cincinnati for five weeks. Following that program he will travel to South Carolina, where he will spend two more weeks training with the University of South Carolina Dance Conservatory. He has already been awarded a full training scholarship with the Carolina Ballet for an entire year, which he will start following the summer programmes.
From Cooper Rust:
“As far as his academics go, I realised many months ago that Joel is a visual learner and the way he was being taught in the Kenyan system simply wasn't working. Although he is one of the brightest people I have ever seen in the studio, he has a very difficult time with basic reading comprehension and math. I have since requested and received funds from the American organisation Artists for Africa to be able to homeschool him and hire a private tutor to work with him four days a week. He receives French lessons from Christiane Plumbe (the Brookhouse French teacher) and piano lessons from Cathy Sampson (the head of music from Nairobi West). Neither of the teachers are asking for any fees. He is now living with me full time and we get up every morning to start his studies at 7:00. It is my intention that he will continue with this program for the year living in South Carolina so as to catch up and join a normal American school for 11th and 12th Grade beginning in 2017.”