On a street in a slum in Lagos, a bare-chested young man, Gift Eze, holds his screaming companion, helping to calm the internal anger and prevent him from fighting back.

Oworonshoki residents have seen their share of violence, with robberies and tit-for-tat gang killings once commonplace in this part of Nigeria’s vast and bustling commercial capital.

But the scene on Christmas Eve, a dance routine between two men covered in chalk, showed just how far the community has come since the establishment of the annual Slum Party, an arts event that uses dance to tell stories of the local community, four years ago.

A dancer performs a routine during an annual slum party in Oworonshoki, Lagos, Nigeria. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

The days of dance workshops culminated in an all-day carnival aimed at reclaiming the streets and reducing tensions between rival gangs. Before long, spectators were dancing along to the drums, blurring the lines between performers and their audience.

“We use dance as a focal point…to get closer to the community and just talk about the various socio-political issues that need to be addressed, using a party as a model,” said Sunday Ozegbe-Obiajulu, who founded the event.

Eze, one of the Slum Party attendees, said the event has been transformative.

“I have been able to achieve a great goal in my life, and Slum Party has really changed a lot for me,” he said.

nigerian slum party, nigerian christmas eve Children watch a dancer perform during an annual festival in a slum in Oworonshoki, Lagos. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Community leader Oriyomi Akeem said the Slum Party has helped bring peace to a neighborhood once known as a no-go zone overrun by gangs. “Everything is calm and good now,” Akeem said.

Ozegbe-Obiajulu hopes the success of the carnival can be replicated by people in other troubled areas of Nigeria and beyond.

“With your dance, your poetry, your music, you can definitely use it to get attention in your community, you can also use it to inspire the youth.”

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