Columbia’s “Artists for Africa” Creating More than Just Dancers

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) – Every child deserves the opportunity to create – that’s the mission behind the Columbia and Kenya-based non-profit “Artists for Africa.”

Every summer, the group brings Kenyans to participate in USC’s summer dance program. One dancer in particular has leaped onto the world stage.


Joel Kioko, 17, grew up in a Nairobi slum.

“Dance is very, very hard, but what it has taught me is that it’s having a lot of family,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there, even when we meet for two hours, just for a two hour class, you build a really close relationship with people.”

This year, his third stint in the summer exchange at USC, Joel will not be returning to Kenya. Instead, Joel will fly to London. He’s received a full ride to the prestigious English National Ballet School. Joel is not just the first Kenyan to do this, he’s the second non-UK citizen to be granted a scholarship, ever.

“And it has taught me one thing that I’ll never forget in life that is that you have to help people,” he added. “You really have to help people. Cause in dance, I cannot just get in the studio and start dancing quickly. Someone has to be there who has to guide me, who has to show me the way.”

For Joel, that person has been Cooper Rust, executive director of Artists for Africa.

“Arts education does more than just create artists that can dance or sing,” Rust remarked. “Joel has turned into an incredible human being who cares about other people and wants to see other people grow. Even while his growth has just exploded, he still constantly worries about what’s going on at home and wants to figure out how to help the kids back in Kenya while he’s traveling the world and making his mark.”

A former professional dancer, Rust created Artists for Africa in 2012.

“It’s this relationship we build between each other where I can tell them, ‘well if you try it this way,’ and it works, then their face lights up, and it’s like giving the best present you’ve ever given,” Rust explained.

You can see Joel and the other dancers at the sixth annual “Artists for Africa” performance art event, Wednesday (August 2). The festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Place at 1208 Washington St.

Tickets are available online, here.

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