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He suffered a broken ankle, had four litres of water pumped out of his lungs and completed four semesters worth of work in one year. Against all the odds Milton Hugh Makoni graduated with a Bachelor’s in Modern Dance Choreography from Nanjing University of the Arts. Here is Milton’s amazing journey in his own words.

My name is Milton Makoni, from Mbare. I joined AfriKera when it was known as the Dance Foundation Course (DFC) in 2012. I graduated in 2015, and joined Tumbuka Dance Company as an apprentice. I studied Chinese language at Nanjing University (2017) and Modern Dance Choreography at Nanjing University of the Arts (2017-2021). Later in October, I start studying for a Masters in Music and Dance Choreography which I will complete in July 2024.

My journey to China started in June 2016 at the Reps Theatre. They were auditioning dancers under the age of 24, for a bachelor’s degree study opportunity in China. Fortunately, I was still 23, turning 24 in November. My audition was successful and I got a full scholarship.

The first year I came here, I was studying Chinese language at Nanjing University. All undergraduate  international students have to study Chinese for one year in another school or city, before going to the actual school of their major. Nanjing is located in the south-east of China, it used to be the capital city in ancient times and is well-known across the country.

That first year was full of different emotions, I was super excited to travel, but everything changed the minute I got out the airport. The first issue was language, I had a nightmare when a taxi driver approached me. I didn’t hear what was he saying, even though he was speaking English! I thought I was dreaming!

When I got to my room, the apartment was empty, no stove, no mattress, nothing. I was afraid to live there and thought of coming back home. Thankfully I made some Chinese friends who helped me buy necessities.

It took about one semester to adapt to the new environment. Language and food were the most challenging. I’m still getting used to the Chinese cuisine, there are some things which I find strange and would never recommend!

During my bachelors, I would say everything was perfect. Well… I remember when I broke my ankle in August 2019. The dance school opened early because we were preparing for an October performance. The studio that we were using had one big dent. Dangerous for dancers. I slipped on it during the rehearsals.

One week after my injury, the international school was filing the documents for me to return to Zimbabwe. They rather send you back to your country than assist you. However, the dance school who really take care of their students,  stood up and backed me. A big drama, which brought extreme tensions between the international students and teachers.

I had one full semester of rest but was still taking my theory classes online. I agreed to take two semesters worth of work in one during my final year. So, in the first semester of my fourth year, I took classes from the third semester of my first year.

I suffered another setback last January when I got sick and was diagnosed with pneumonia and Tuberculosis Pleurisy. My pneumonia affected my left lung, luckily, it didn’t spread much. I had a tough time breathing because my lung and chest had about four litres of water.

The doctor managed to remove it. I’m still in the process of recovering. Everything is fine! Since January, things have been quite challenging but I love to appreciate friends that have been supporting me. I’m still going for a review at hospital, and I spend almost $600-$1000 every month. We have insurance but they can only reimburse $80.

Which makes it tough if you are a student. You’re not allowed to attend offline classes or work, you can’t work when you have a student visa. I would like to thank Beatrice Eastwood (former AfriKera ballet instructor), she assisted me with money for food. That’s how tough my situation was!

On the bright side, even though my health situation wasn’t good, it didn’t stop me from completing my exams and thesis defense. I’m currently not allowed to be on campus but sneaked in for my exams my dance school doesn’t know that the International School isn’t allowing me to the campus. I’m supposed to get a Medical Health Certificate from the hospital which officially approves me to attend classes on campus. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve done all the tests and they came out negative. I will get the certificate when the current pandemic settles.

Regarding my classes, meeting different choreographers and dancers can be quite overwhelming. I really appreciate that at AfriKera we were taught numerous dance styles and complimentary disciplines: Contemporary, Afro-fusion, modern jazz, ballet, southern and West African dances, human anatomy, theatre, pilates, hip-hop, music, choreography and capoeira. It becomes easy to adapt to the choreographer’s style.

Many Chinese choreographers wanted to work with me because of my stage presence. They love how I expand my movements and articulate my feelings on stage. Some of the professors and students used to ask me why I’m not teaching or working with a company. I was given a platform to choreograph with my dance department, they really appreciate some of my work.

Unfortunately, you can’t share on social media, the school owns the work. I choreographed the first half of our graduation performance and also taught my professors, colleagues some African dances. Honestly, this experience has  expanded my knowledge of the craft, and it was also a great privilege to learn Chinese folk and classical dance.

I’m the first African dancer in the university and proud to represent Zimbabwe. I’ve been teaching some of our traditional styles such as Dinhe, Mbakumba etc. and also some of the West African styles that I learnt at AfriKera, the dance department appreciates all of them.

Life is full of challenges that mature and make us strong. I have managed to overcome a lot of obstacles this year. I’ve learned to appreciate the small things. I’ve not done it by myself but with friends surrounding me. I’m walking towards a bright light now.

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