This Brown ballerina is blazing a trail for young girls who look like her. While studying dance at prestigious NYU, she became the youngest African American to be featured in a Maybelline campaign. When I spoke with 19-year-old Isio-Maya Nuwere for Amplify Africa, she shared how her world of dance propelled her into modeling, what her Nigerian parents think of her passions, and how a late start doesn’t mean that it’s too late.
Amplify Africa: You’re from New York, tell me what your childhood looked like.
Isio-Maya Nuwere: Yes! I’m from Queens, NY and both of my parents are Nigerian, so of course I’m a very proud Naija girl! I’m a first generation kid but I was raised with the deep knowledge of where I come from. I have one older sister but I grew up surrounded by family; cousins, aunts, uncles etc. At times our house was like Grand Central Station (laughs), it was always filled with family and we were never alone for which I’m very grateful.
AA: When did you start dancing?
IMN: I started dancing at the age of 11 which is actually a lot later than most professional dancers who start at just 2 or 3 years old. I realized very early that dance was my passion. Growing up I tried many activities but I quit swimming and put down the guitar, but something about dance just stuck with me. It felt right.
AA: You went to the Alvin Ailey School of Dance, how would you describe your time there?
IMN: I loved it! I went to high school at PPAS (Professional Performing Arts School) and they have a dual partnership with the Ailey School to provide superior dance training to public high school students. After my academic day was over I would train at the Ailey School from 1:45pm – 4:30pm in all types of different techniques and styles including classical, ballet, and modern. Then, from 5pm – 9pm I would go to the Harlem School of Arts and continue my training. My days were always filled with dance!
AA: That’s amazing! What do you love most about dancing?
IMN: I love everything about dancing but I’d have to say being able to impact others without saying a single word. Dance allows me to share who I am and for you to see yourself within my movements. The ability to inspire others through my dance is also very special to me.
AA: What styles of dance are you trained in?
IMN: Classical ballet, contemporary, modern, jazz, west African, and jazz funk! My favorite has to be modern or contemporary because I just love the structure.
AA: How did you get into modeling?
IMN: Honestly, I ask myself this every day (laughs). People would always tell me I should model but I was so focused on dance and modeling was just a whole other world to me. I got the Maybelline job through my agents who submitted me! When they called me in, the creative team wanted to see me dance so that made me feel comfortable right away and I got the job! That was my first every modeling job!
AA: Wow! So what was it like for you being on set?
IMN: It was incredible. Everyone made me feel so fabulous as I was pampered all day in preparation. The whole team was so welcoming and took great care of me. It was a surreal experience but I felt really proud as I knew this was something I worked so hard for and I could just see myself doing it for a really long time. It also felt amazing to know I was the youngest African American model to be featured by Maybelline. It was a really long day on set but I loved every single second of it and it’s a memory I’ll carry forever.
Video: Isio-Maya, the youngest African-American model as of now featured on Maybelline and the newest face of Maybelline’s Colossal Mascara 2020.
AA: How does it feel to be the youngest African American model to be featured by Maybelline?
IMN: It’s unbelievable! I want other girls that look like me to know that you can do whatever you put your mind to. It’s funny that a lot of people told me I wouldn’t get far in dance because I started too late, but look at me now! I’m an example that if you work hard and stay focused you can achieve anything. You have to believe in yourself and what you are doing and don’t allow others to tell you that you can’t do something.
AA: That’s great advice. What do your parents think of you modeling and dancing?
IMN: Well, while like most immigrant parents they pushed me towards a career as a doctor or lawyer so I could have the world at my fingertips, they are very proud of me. From a young age I would watch the tv thinking I want to do that. I didn’t know what exactly or how I would get there, but I just knew that was in me. Though I’m going a different route than they anticipated, they see what I’ve accomplished and that I’m doing the best I can do, and that makes them proud.
AA: How has quarantine affected you? What have you been working on?
IMN: Quarantine has been a huge eye opener for me and has given me a clearer sense of my purpose, which is dance and entertaining. It gave me the opportunity to take a break from the NYC hustler lifestyle and focus on the important things like spending more quality time with my grandmother and other family members. With respect to my career, it taught me that just because the outside world has stopped that doesn’t mean you should stop working towards accomplishing your goals. I’ve been working out consistently, pushing myself with new body stretches, and researching the veterans who came before me to learn what they did to achieve their level of success so I can grow from that.
AA: What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
IMN: My tenacity. If I want something then I am willing to put in the work to accomplish it. I’m a hustler and I will not stop until I make all my dreams come true. I’m grateful that I have that mentality because it’s very hard to make it in this industry.
AA: What are some of your dreams?
IMN: Ooooo I want everything! (laughs) I have a lot of dreams but I really want to be in The Lion King on Broadway. That would be a dream come true. I also want to have a career modeled after the legendary Debbie Allen. She has accomplished so much with dance in so many spaces. I want to be a household name one day.
AA: What is something you want people to know about you?
IMN: I’m a National Ambassador for Brown Girls do Ballet and they help to promote diversity in classical ballet and the arts. Dance has opened many doors for me and I’m getting into more mentorship roles so we can truly find a space in this industry.
I have no doubt that this young woman will be a star. She is extremely talented and her grace and humility shines bright. Being so young and having a strong understanding of who you are and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish is a very powerful combination. You can stay connected with her on Instagram. We’re rooting for you Isio-Maya!
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