BEVERLY HILLS, June 06, (THEWILL) – After a difficult beginning that was fraught with challenges, Adedayo Liadi, popularly known as Ijodee, is today celebrated all over the world for his contributions to contemporary dance. The father of three children, whose dance routine in the music video of a popular gospel song, Olori Oko, speaks with JOY ONUORAH about his career and other matters. Excerpts:
Did you choose dance as your career or it just happened?
I was chosen by dance. Dance picked me. I started dancing right from primary school. I’d join a gathering of girls and dance with them. I enjoyed myself all the while. This continued in secondary school. After secondary school, it became clear to me that dance was what I was meant to do. I was my parents’ first child. My father wanted me to become an engineer. It was tough for him to accept my decision to become a dancer. Initially he didn’t accept it. I wouldn’t blame him for this. He had never seen anybody who made it big in life through dance. But I didn’t budge. I kept pushing to achieve my goal. At a point, I had to leave home. Later that same year, a certain school of technology in Ikorodu offered me admission. For a while, I didn’t know what to do, whether to accept the offer or not. Eventually I decided to accept it and I started attending the school, but I wasn’t enjoying anything. I left the school.
About three years after leaving secondary school, some white people came from France on a mission to teach Nigerian youths how to do conventional dance. I was interested and got involved. We were 267 dancers from all over Nigeria. I was the youngest among them. This was in 1992. The white people later started training us and screening some persons out. Out of 267 participants, only five of us made the final list. One day, one of the officials approached me and asked if I’d like to study dance in France. That signalled the beginning of my international dance career. In the western countries, dance is like sport. When you are in school and you perform on any platform, scouts are there watching you. In those days, each time I performed, somebody would just walk up to me, commend my performance and then request that I join their school or group. Although my career in dance started in Nigeria and I was trained by different people, I didn’t study dance in Nigeria. I did all my studies in different schools in Europe. I studied at the International School of Dance in France and Senegal, Kiongi University in Korea, CCNN Dance School in France, Impulstanz Dance School in Austria and other institutions across the world. Fortunately, I won scholarship awards to study in all the institutions that I attended. I never paid fees for any of the programmes and I never pushed for any. In the western countries, everybody wants the best student in the school unlike what obtains in Nigeria.
At the time you left your family, where did you stay and for how long?
I was away from home for about three or four years. I was staying everywhere. I’ve slept everywhere. I have lived under the flyover at Ojuelegba in Lagos. Meanwhile, I came from a good home. My parents were not poor, but my dad was deliberately opposed to my choice of career. That was why I left home. The only thing I didn’t do was join the wrong group of people. I was determined to make my mum proud and happy, as well as to prove my father wrong. He actually threatened to disown me if I failed to do his wish. My mother’s role in my life was what encouraged me to work hard and make her proud.
After you were selected by the French officials, did you go home to break the news?
Yes, I went back home to my father. My mum was not living with him at the time. When I told him about the opportunity to travel to France, he said nothing. He snubbed me. So I asked my stepmother to help beg him. The strategy worked. The day I was about to travel to France, dad and my step mom accompanied me to the French Office in Ikoyi. Dad was quite surprised and he couldn’t hide it. At the point of saying goodbye to him, he realised that I had been treated badly for nothing. That was when I got my freedom from him.
What was it like being at the helm of the Dancers Guild of Nigeria?
It was an opportunity to serve and to help people embrace dancing, not just for leisure but as a complete profession.
What are the major ingredients of your success as a dancer?
Determination, focus, passion and doggedness, as well as good training and the grace of God. The place of training cannot be over-emphasised. Even when the trained body becomes old, it will still manifest signs that it was trained. People always say that I’ve been receiving awards for many years now. How old am I? I’d say something like 50 years and they ask how come I’m still receiving awards. I work on my brain just as I work on my body. I also mentioned doggedness. I’ve suffered injuries that were more than enough to stop me from dancing forever. I have undergone several surgeries, but here I am still active and dancing.
Can you make a comparison between today’s dance forms with what used to be the vogue in the past?
Not at all. Today’s contemporary dance forms are traceable to the past. They are not new; they are just modernised. However, most of the dancers we have now are so concerned about the money that they leave out many other things money cannot buy. They ignore the aspect of thorough training. We need more message-oriented dancers than commercial or leisure dancers.
Kafayat Oluwatoyin Shafau, otherwise known as Kaffy, is one of those popular dancers that look up to you
Yes, maybe. I am a creative dance artist, while Kaffy is a commercial dancer. I like her a lot for her strong will. She is a young lady doing her best and I think it’s good for her to still look up to older dancers like us. It will help keep her focused.
You were initially involved in the Maltina Dance All reality TV show. What happened?
I was a consultant to the organisers of the show. I worked with only the finalists in the competition for about three months. Unfortunately, the show was rested after that year.
What was the inspiration behind your performance in the music video of Olori Oko, the popular song by defunct gospel music group, Infinity?
When I returned to Nigeria after a stint abroad, I was invited to do something for a particular project. That was how I met the group known as Infinity. They asked me to come up with something, an idea for Olori Oko. The dance was eventually birthed on one of those days we had a rehearsal.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a choreographer and how did you overcome them?
There were attacks from different angles, but with God’s grace, I was able to overcome them all. I am now a permanent overcomer.
What else would you have excelled in other than dance?
That would be sports. I wanted to be a sportsman, but my dad stopped everything. I couldn’t go into sports because I needed money to train myself. Fortunately for me, training in dance in Nigeria at the time didn’t require much money. In the 1980s, you could just go to the National Arts Theatre complex in Lagos and join any group. That was how dance took me away from sports. I was one of the best discus and javelin throwers, as well as a sprinter in secondary school. I also struggled as a short man to do high jump.
Do you have something like a dance school or are you hoping to start one?
I have Ijodee Dance Company, which is the dance performing aspect of my organisation. There’s also Ijodee Arts, which specialises in various things, such as dance, poetry, music and drama. I have Ijodee Foundation, which is aimed at helping people who want to study dance. I’m not the one to train them or pay for their tuition. The Foundation is basically to connect them with the organisations that I am connected to as an affiliate. Sometimes these organisations say they need one person from Nigeria. Then I would look for someone who suits their description. I don’t just pick anybody because I have a name to protect. I also have Ijodee Dance Centre. This is the one that organises festivals, conferences, seminars or concerts and it is the administrative aspect of my company. Finally, the newest one is Ijodee international Arts. It was the lockdown that compelled me to think up that one and it will commence activities very soon.
How do you let off steam?
I love to go for a swim and I listen to music a lot. I enjoy riding a bicycle and I watch sports on TV. I love gospel music and can listen to it for a whole day.
Not much is known about your nuclear family?
I am a very private person. My wife is doing well and my three children, a girl and two boys, are very well too. They are based in the United States of America.
Is any of your kids likely to follow your footsteps?
I wouldn’t know. I just let them go with what they chose to do as I’m not imposing anything on them. Just as our faces are different, our destinies differ too.