At 14, Junior Frood has performed in the West End, raised £300k for charity and is an anti-bullying advocate. Laura Drysdale reports.
Bullies tormented Junior Frood so badly over his love for performing that his family had to move from their home. The 14-year-old was beaten up and subjected to verbal taunts in his primary school-age years, having had a passion for street dance since the age of three.
But not only has Junior continued to pursue his dancing, even supporting global superstar Justin Beiber on his world tour, he has used his moves to raise more than £300,000 for good causes and is now an anti-bullying ambassador for a charity founded as a legacy to Diana, Princess of Wales.
“Junior has achieved a lot,” his mum Kerry says, proud her son has not given up in the face of adversity. He wants to put a stop to a view amongst some that boys ‘shouldn’t dance’, she explains.
“He got to the point where he wanted to prove people wrong. Why should he give up his dream?”
In fact, Junior, who began teaching himself to dance from Youtube videos, has already achieved one of his performance goals; last year he took to the West End stage - twice.
As well as dancing in ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’, he was also a guest performer in ‘Stepping Out’ the musical alongside Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden.
“It was amazing,” says Junior, who now has his sights set on sharing the stage with Beyonce or Chris Brown.
His ambition, he says, is to dance “with lots of celebrities”, before opening his own dance school to teach children.
Junior started out performing in local shows around his home city of Leeds, but first danced at an event at the age of eight.
Kerry helped him scour the internet for details of upcoming festivals, events and competitions and drafted emails to ask if he could perform. The rest, as they say, was history. Aged ten, he competed in nationwide contest Talent Fest, being named UK Freestyle Dance Champion.
It was judged, Kerry explains, by street dance troupe Flawless and a representative of Pineapple Dance Studios in London, where Junior was first given a week-long summer school scholarship and then offered the chance to train there each Sunday.
For three years, single mum Kerry, a nurse at St James’ Hospital in Leeds, Junior and her youngest son Jake made the journey to the capital and back every weekend.
Much of their weekday evenings were - and still are - taken up by another family talent, martial arts, with Jake now a third degree black belt holder at just ten-years-old.
Juggling time for the boys’ passions with her job is no mean feat for Kerry, but the weekly travel to London was also putting a strain on family finances.
“Because we were travelling down to London every week, it was costing me a fortune,” Kerry says. “I was getting to a point where I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t want Junior to not be able to pursue his dance career.”
In need of help, Kerry turned to local businesses to see if she could get support for her son.
Since February last year, Junior has been sponsored by National Express and the company will now provide him with free coach travel to Liverpool, after the teenager moved from Pineapple to Jelli Studios in the city. He has undertaken a summer school there and will attend Jennifer Ellison’s Fame Academy every Sunday from September.
“He wouldn’t be able to go without that,” Kerry says. “I wouldn’t be able to do it. There’s no way on earth. Without their help, he wouldn’t be able to train. I was spending every last penny I had before he got sponsored. You go without to help your children. I would go without clothes and without things for myself to make sure I could afford to take him down. But it gets to a point where money runs out.”
“I like to make other people smile by dancing,” says Junior, who has used his talent to fundraise and help others by performing at charity events and busking.
As well as supporting singers Sam Bailey and Justin Beiber on tour, performing at the Barbican and Royal Albert Hall, and appearing on television including BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning, Junior has helped to raise more than £300,000 for causes such as hospices for children with life-limiting illnesses and disabilities.
Using hashtags including #boyscandance, he also hopes to encourage boys to feel comfortable and aims to fight stigma and support acceptance. The teenager has also made a stand against bullies by becoming an anti-bullying ambassador for the Diana Award charity, set up as a legacy to the People’s Princess.
Last year, Junior, who performs with Leeds Rhinos and is an ambassador for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund at Leeds General Infirmary, visited the House of Lords to be presented with a British Citizen Youth Award. He was handed the accolade by Ashley Banjo, of Diversity dance troupe, in honour of his fundraising and anti-bullying work, both of which have also been recognised through a Courageous Citizen Diana Award.
Now, the family’s focus is on raising £5,000 to pay to send Junior to Los Angeles next year for a ten-day summer school with some of the best dance teachers in the world.
“Many children would have given up, they wouldn’t have carried on after being bullied,” says Kerry. “The fact that he has stuck to his dreams and overcome a lot, I’m really proud of him.”
National Express, the UK’s largest coach operator is helping Junior as part of its Youth Promise, a pledge to support young people to succeed in life and work through a range of initiatives.
Chris Hardy, managing director of the company’s coach division, says: “Junior has already had incredible success in his budding career and sets a great example to young people by working hard and making the most of his talents.
“We are delighted to sponsor Junior while he completes his training as part of our commitment to support young people.”
At Jelli Studios, Junior will take dance exams as well as training in dance styles including ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary. He will also take part in musical theatre, acting and singing.
The centre was founded by Jennifer Ellison, an actress, singer, dancer and businesswoman.
It also runs theatre arts college training courses and Junior hopes to study there for a BTEC qualification once he turns 16.