Shadwell dancer Patience J on taking Afro-dance into the mainstream

Patience J

Patience J has worked with the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Major Lazer - Credit: Patience J

A Shadwell dancer and choreographer has spoken of her joy at taking the Afro-dance scene into the mainstream with a performance on the BBC.

Patience James-Agbo, 32,  known as Patience J, featured in BBC Arts’ Dance Passion series, putting Afro-dance, a style rooted in sub-Saharan Africa, firmly on the UK map.

She fell in love with dancing as a child in Lagos, Nigeria, a country where Afro-dance is woven into the social fabric of everyday life.

But, after moving to the UK aged 10, Patience had to contend with family and financial challenges to keep her dream of becoming a professional dancer alive.

She said: “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, I knew that dance was the only escape that I had."

Patience and her two sisters, Bridget and Happiness, were raised by their mother Janet as a single parent.

Patience enrolled at Wac Arts, a college based in Belsize Park, and kept it a secret from her mother, only inviting her to the end of year performance in her second year. 

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At this point, Patience said her mother could have pulled her out but did not. 

“She recognised the need I had for dance and that nothing could have strayed me away from doing it."

At Wac Arts, Patience expanded her artistic vocabulary and got her first big break, performing at Edinburgh Fringe festival.

When she started to explore the London afro-dance scene, Patience said there was little public interest in the genre and only a handful of people doing it. 

Yet largely through posting YouTube videos, interest began to grow and she has since worked with brands like Nike and Adidas, as well as artists including the Pet Shop Boys and Major Lazer.

Most recently, the Patience J Collective contributed to the BBC’s Dance Passion series with a piece called Colours, exploring modern Afro dance forms.

Speaking about her involvement in the project, Patience said: “It was amazing to get Afro-dance on a platform like the BBC.” 

Patience is currently working on a new show which she hopes to release later this year, with the working title Cause For The Culture.

For anyone thinking of becoming a dancer, she had this message: “Just do it for the love of it.”