From Drumsticks To Dancefloor

2 October 2019

THROUGH THE HELP OF AMP AND A WHOLE LOT OF HARD WORK, ELIJAH “NAE NAE-ED” HIS WAY FROM THE DRUM KIT TO THE DANCE FLOOR AND IS ON A MISSION TO CHANGE THE WORLD ONE DANCE MOVE AT A TIME.

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Meet Elijah.
Elijah has been part of AMP from day one, attending our first ever Taster Day in 2014. He is now in our advanced Dance class, volunteers as a student TA and enrolled into BRIT school’s Dance stream last year. His story is one of many that beautifully portrays everything we try to achieve through AMP and the kind of impact AMP can have on any child and young person attending
our Saturday classes.

When Elijah first started at AMP his life’s trajectory was clear: finish secondary school whilst working on his drum skills, apply for a spot at BRIT school to do music and then become a session musician and teacher. As a single mum, Diane wanted Elijah to be around as many positive role models as possible whilst also working on the skills that would set him up for life. So as soon as she heard that Hillsong was starting a performing arts and music school, she signed Elijah up.

For the first couple of years Elijah enjoyed his drum classes – he progressed well, became an integral part of our AMP family and made lots of friends. Even though drumming was his craft of choice, he had always enjoyed dancing: from entertaining at family parties as a young boy, to trying to nail ‘The Dougy’ and ‘The Nae Nae’ (and all the other latest dance moves kids dance to these days) – he took any opportunity to dance. According to his mum however, he never quite had the confidence to fully engage, neither did he seem to be naturally talented in that way. Diane recalls:

“Elijah always liked dancing but his movement always somewhat lacked the ease I saw in some of his friends. He’d sometimes come home from school showing us the latest dance moves and my sister would stop him and ask ‘What is that move actually supposed to look like? I can’t make it out from your attempts! Let’s have a look on YouTube’ And then they’d stand in front of the mirror for hours trying to imitate the moves that seemed to come so easy to other young kids his age. So if anyone had told me Elijah would do Dance professionally one day, I would’ve laughed them off as delusional!”

His friends eventually convinced him to join the Youth Dance team and – as seems to be his personality – he was willing to put in a lot of work to catch up with them as best as he could. He’d come home from school and practice until he had the moves down, only to find he was behind again when he arrived at training the next week. But he wasn’t about to give up. Whether it was his drum lessons helping him with rhythm and coordination, or whether it was simply his determination, one Saturday as he was practicing some moves in front of a mirror at AMP, our Dance Stream Leader Shaun noticed him and immediately saw something in him.

Like all of our AMP staff, Shaun only gets paid for the actual time he teaches – all his Stream Leader duties are done in a volunteer capacity. Those duties include everything from the management of the teachers on the stream, laying out the syllabus for the year as well as signing off on lesson plans every week. It also includes spotting talent and investing in young people outside of just the regular classes to help them achieve their personal goals.

So when Shaun saw Elijah’s potential he approached him and asked if he was interested in joining a Dance class at AMP. Elijah was keen, but said he had to go back to his mum to work out if they could afford another class. Shaun didn’t wait to hear back from him, but immediately approached the AMP key team and asked if we could – should his mum not be able or willing to pay for a dance class – give Elijah a scholarship. As making all streams accessible to young people, regardless of their financial standing, is right at the heart of AMP and seeing how excited Shaun was about Elijah’s potential, the scholarship got signed off immediately.

Though Diane was happy for Elijah to take the class on a scholarship, she didn’t want him to give up drums as that was his life plan after all. BRIT applications would be due within no time and she wanted to make sure he was ready for that. So yes, he could join the Dance stream but he’d have to continue to prioritise drums. The only problem with that was that there was a timetable clash with his drum and dance class. Rather than letting that deter him, Elijah put his new found passion for dance to work by working extra hard at home, asking Shaun for notes at the end of every class and ultimately, even though he would miss the first bit of his class consistently for about a year, he progressed faster than anyone could’ve anticipated. Soon enough, he approached his mum with the inevitable: He wanted to give up drums, focus on dance and apply to BRIT for the Dance stream. Diane was concerned; he had only been dancing in a class setting for about a year and from memory he wasn’t anywhere near as good as he needed to be to make it into Brit. Either way his mind was made up and with the encouragement and support from his teachers at AMP, he set out to prepare for his BRIT audition.

By this point we had started a Ballet stream at AMP to encourage the kids who were very much focused on hip hop and street dance, to broaden their horizon, solidify their technique and find value in a more holistic approach to dance. Elijah was one of the first to sign up to this class too. In the lead up to his audition, both Shaun and other teachers, like Julia our ballet teacher, took time out of their already busy schedule to work with Elijah, coach him and give him tips on how to best prepare for the big day.

By the time auditions for BRIT came around, even Diane had hope. She’d obviously prepare him for the worst but there was a small part in her that thought he could actually make it. As they were sitting and waiting for his turn, one of his childhood friends who had danced from a very young age and was also auditioning, came out crushed: She didn’t make it. Now even Elijah began to worry a bit: He had only been dancing for a couple of years, she had danced her whole life and she didn’t make it – how was he standing a chance? Slightly nervous, he took a deep breath, said a prayer and went into the audition room. Diane vividly remember what he said when he came out: “God was in there with me today mum!” After an interview with the faculty in which he left them impressed with his responses, his over all approach to dance and his desire to give back. They got the news: He got in! Out of all his friends who had applied that year, many of whom had danced for a lot longer than him, he was the only one who made it.

Both Diane and him attribute a big part of his journey and the now new trajectory of his life to AMP; and they’re not only talking about the obvious things. Of course he’s learned to dance professionally and flourished in his skill in that way. They both agree that it was more than that. To our question what has changed for him the most since attending AMP (other than dancing become his primary focus in life!) he said: “Being a part of AMP gave me a confidence I didn’t have before. I can express myself better, am more positive about engaging with new people and fully believe that I can achieve anything I want. It’s also made me see the importance of giving back – I want to do for others what Shaun and those guys did for me. Coach the next generation and be someone who believes in them.” This year as we celebrate 5 years of AMP we couldn’t imagine it without Elijah and we have a feeling he couldn’t have imagined the last few years with out us either.

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The story of Elijah is just one example of the impact being part of AMP has had on our young people. Amplified Arts Academy provides high quality and affordable education in performing arts. We currently run in two locations on a Saturday: The Warehouse in South Bermondsey and a Community Centre in Camden. Our classes are for young people aged 4-21 and happen across Dance, Act, Vocals and Drums (Bermondsey only). All our classes range from Beginner to Advanced level and we aim to ensure every young person is placed into their best fit – the fit that allows them to grow and reach their full potential. Our hope is that, through AMP, we can help young people in the community by developing skills in their chosen field, acquiring many transferable life skills gained through the arts, as well as contribute to their personal growth.

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If you are interested to find out more or would like to sign you or your child up for a trial class, please head to our website www.amplifiedartsacademy.com