At just 14 years old, Seyi Oluyole started Dream Catchers Academy, an organization in Lagos, Nigeria, that helps get children off the streets and into school through the power of dance. Now, over 10 years later, Oluyole, who is also a scriptwriter and freelance film director, uses her own salary plus donations to house, care for, and educate nine of her students and teach about 150 kids total. “My wish is to tour the world and heal people with the joy these kids exude, irrespective of their pasts,” she tells InStyle. “I believe the future holds great things for us. The world will know our name.”
Last year, Seyi Oluyole became an internet phenomenon when stars like Rihanna and Naomi Campbell found a video online of her students dancing and reposted it to their Instagrams. The video soon went viral. “It was a Sunday afternoon, and the kids were complaining they were hungry. I only had enough provision for dinner so I decided to keep them busy,” she tells InStyle. In an effort to distract the kids, she suggested they film a dance video. “I played DJ Spinall and Wizkid’s popular afrobeats song, Nowo, and we did our thing,” she says. “When I watched the video I wasn’t really sure I liked it but I posted it anyway.” And it paid off. Superstars started reposting her video and drawing attention to her dance academy, which aims to give kids a new shot at a better future through dance and education. “I can’t say who shared it first between Rihanna and Naomi Campbell. I know the model Imaan Hammam re-posted it too,” recalls Oluyole.
P. Diddy, Rihanna, and Beyoncé are other celebrities to showcase the dancing troupe’s videos. Oluyole, who is now nominated for awards in Africa like the Future Awards Africa prize for education, hopes her newfound global attention will lead to success for her students. “One of my biggest dreams is for dance to take these underprivileged kids to the greatest places,” she says.
Tough times: Growing up in Ondo State, Nigeria, wasn’t easy for Oluyole. When she was 10, her family became homeless, living between car garages, local churches, and even on the streets. The self-taught dancer used dance as a way of finding happiness and freedom during those tough times. “When I was sad and when I was hungry, dance would make me feel better,” she says. Despite her tough childhood, Oluyole always knew that she wanted to help other kids in similar situations. About four years later, when her family was finally able to move into a house, she set out to make her dream a reality. “I met kids whose stories were worse than mine,” she says. “So I gave them what I had, which was dance.”
School of dance: Oluyole dedicates much of her time to helping her students perfect their skills. “During school days we rehearse for an hour in the evening. On holidays and weekends, we rehearse for as much as three to four hours a day,” she says. Sharing videos of the children on social media platforms has brought global awareness to their talent and their needs. “Some of the kids I meet have no place to stay, they are malnourished, out of school and ill,” says Oluyole. According to UNICEF, approximately 10.5 million children in Nigeria, aged 5-14 years are not in school, and only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school. Through crowd-funding on social media, donations and dance competitions, Dream Catchers Academy has been able to house, educate, clothe and feed a number of these disadvantaged kids.
Badass inspirations: “Being a badass is about being a positive role model to the younger generation,” says Oluyole. “My mum is blind but she has never let that deter her; she taught me how to love others and how to be strong.” The talented choreographer also names Michelle Obama as a major source of inspiration. “Michelle [Obama] is a kind woman creating a better world for young girls all over the world. She is one of the most graceful women I have read about.”
Proudest moments: Oluyole says one of her ultimate goals is for every child to achieve something people never thought they could. She says this is something she has been able to frequently witness. “I am proud when they learn a new word and they use it in a sentence. I am even more proud when they go to a performance and they kill it and everyone wants to know who their choreographer is,” she says with a laugh.
Dance revolution: Although the popularity of the dance video gave the Dream Catchers Academy global recognition, the organization still lacks funding and resources. “It saddens me when I meet a child who I would love to help but I am unable due to lack of funds,” says Oluyole. But, she holds out hope that one day her students will get to tour and dance on the world’s biggest stages. “The future holds great things for us,” she says with confidence. “I want our dancing to be sustainable funding for the academy [so we can] keep growing and help more kids. Every child that passes through the team will have an opportunity they could never have dreamed of.”