My Style Journey: Njoki Wairua 'The Dancing Biochemist'
I’m Njoki, sometimes referred to as ‘The Dancing Biochemist’, and I’m a 23-year-old biochemistry major at the University of Nairobi, Class of 2017. I’m a ballet student at The Academy of Dance and Art in Karen, Nairobi, the largest performing arts school in East Africa which offers classes in diverse dance genres such as ballet, ballroom dancing, contemporary and tap. I was fortunate to be selected as the brand ambassador for the academy in December 2014.
I have been athletic for as long as I can remember. All throughout primary and high school, I participated in sports; from squash to hockey to basketball. I even ran track and wasn’t too shabby at it! Growing up, I naturally assumed that being sporty equated to dressing androgynously, and so for the bulk of my teenage years, I often wore baggy pants, absolutely no dresses and lots of hoodies. This is also because my personal style was heavily influenced by hip hop; a genre I took to a decade ago when I first started dancing. I watched a lot of dance films in my pastime that featured hip hop as the main style of dance and in them, the actors’ costume designs consisted of baggy pants, hoodies and bandanas; nuanced references to the hip-hop lifestyle, and so I conformed to what I presumed was the norm for a female break dancer.
After completing high school, I joined The Academy of Dance and Art in 2011. That’s when my style really began to evolve. Initially, the change was very slow and gradual, but a change nonetheless. I had taken up jazz dance classes and the dress code was fitted dance wear, more specifically, tights and leotards. Looking back, I’ll admit that it was absolute torture being the severe tomboy I was at the time, but I was determined to be a professional dancer more than I cared about how the clothes made me feel and so I stuck with it and with time, it wasn’t such a big deal anymore.
I still recall my very first dance show at the academy. I was playing a mirror for the evil queen in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (the show was based on Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales). I remember getting fitted for my costume and thinking to myself, they expect me to wear this? I had to wear black tights with a shiny silver ‘dress top’ that was well above the knee but long enough to cover the essentials. I was absolutely mortified and couldn’t picture myself in front of a room full of people dressed in something that really wasn’t me. But guess what? I enjoyed performing on stage so much that I forgot all about the discomfort. I still have the costume to remind me of where I started, especially when I’m in need of a little inspiration.
Then in 2013, my biggest style change unfolded when I took up ballet. Suddenly, more time was spent in leotards and ballet tights than I could resist; I was at the dance studio five days a week! Without realising it, I had incorporated my dance wear with my everyday style. Now, before you think I was walking around shopping malls in see through tights, I have to explain that the progression was far more effortless than I imagined it would be. I simply started to wear pieces that were more fitted, swapped out my hoodies for cute sweaters with bows on them and even started wearing dresses, lots of them at that.
Upon reflection, this huge transition was as a result of the confidence boost I received after starting ballet. Secretly, I always wanted to be a ballerina as I admired the grace and poise with which they danced, but I never really thought I could get into it given the age I was starting out at. Believe it or not, most ballerinas begin their career at the tender age of 3 and here I was beginning at 21 and not being too terrible at it! This new journey, ballet, also helped keep me fit and I learnt to be comfortable in my own skin.
Fast forward to today and my current look on any given day is characterised by my hair being up in a bun, some leggings and a funky tee with sandals. Mostly because it’s super comfy, especially when I’m heading to the dance studio. But when it’s time to get all dolled up, I have found that I am willing to try out brightly coloured clothes, sequins, a good heel or wedge, and even a sparkly clutch. I have certainly come out of my shell and I’m more adventurous when it comes to fashion.
I have to admit though that I owe a portion of my sense of style to Ciara. I’ve always looked up to her given that her unforgettable 2004 hit music video ‘1, 2 Step’ is the main reason I decided to self-train in hip hop dance and ultimately begin my dance journey. I love the fact that she has an athletic figure and yet maintains feminine style with just the right amount of edge to make her extra fierce; the perfect balance.
In future, I see my style evolving even further as I adapt to inevitable milestones in my life. I’m positive I’ll have a wardrobe to match. Who knows, I could be the next big dance wear designer… from tomboy to fashion guru? Never say never!
Watch the conversation below, as Njoki discusses her dance journey with Sharon Machira:
Photos and Video by Lyraoko Media.