Joe Obidiegwu, 44, was born in a village in southeastern Nigeria in Africa. He came to America on a tennis scholarship, and attended Franklin Pierce University and Virginia Tech for undergraduate and post-graduate studies in economics and agricultural economics.
The highlight of his tennis career was participating in the doubles qualifying rounds at Wimbledon.
He moved to Naples in 1994, retired from competition due to injuries and began teaching tennis at Naples' Cambier Park. He went to the Port Royal Club in 2000 and became the tennis director in 2002. He became a naturalized citizen in 2004.
NAPLES STORY: From tennis to ballet and beyond
Tennis pro tries his hand at the arts and is inspired -- and asks community to build a public performance venueBy Joe Obidiegwu
For most of my life I had been an outsider looking into the world of ballet because I assumed it to be an art that belonged to a certain type of people.
However, three years ago I had the opportunity to be a part of ballet when Toshiko Tompkins asked me to play a minor role in the celebrated annual "Nutcracker" performed by Naples Ballet.
I had no theater or dance experience except for a semester of modern jazz, so I had serious doubts about being qualified to get up on stage and perform in front of an audience in this great Christmas tradition, but I could not say "no'' for one reason.
I will explain.
I have lived in Naples for 18 years, and I believe I have done so for the same reasons many others fall in love with the community. Naples has been described as a paradise because among other things it is a safe, clean community with world-class amenities and unrivaled winter climate.
My biggest criticism of Naples, and what I hear from other locals and visitors is that Naples lacks cultural diversity.
I have learned in life that it is easier to stand on the sideline and criticize than be a part of the positive change that we wish to see, so I decided that participating in the "Nutcracker" would be an opportunity to be a part of the change that I wanted to see.
The experience was very enriching to my soul and I have since been a part of the last three performances by the company. I found ballet dance to be an expression of grace an elegance poured from the sweet nectar of classical music — an epitome of human refinement.
We adore the great performers because ballet touches the soul in a profound way. It stimulates the three functional soul faculties of thinking, feeling and willing in such ways that the dancer not only hears the music but also becomes the music.
When I joined the company for the first performance I was impressed by the fact that the cast members were comprised of local children of diverse ethnicity and various ages, and their parents. The camaraderie between the different social classes and generations of cast members was heart-warming. I was moved by the bonding that the many hours of rehearsal and the jitters created amongst the parents and children.
You get the sense that the show was "a performance by the community for the community" which reminded me of my childhood in Africa when all the villagers would turn out to the market square to watch the colorful masquerade and dancers perform during the New Yam Festival.
This is an invaluable experience that the children would take with them for the rest of their lives. The discipline alone could help someone, especially children, excel in other aspects of life.
Naples Ballet has one of the most passionate teachers in Christophe Maravel, a former principal dancer who deeply cares about these children and would instill in them the notion of taking on life challenges.
I was born in a small village in Africa and following in my father's footsteps I began playing tennis. Consequently, I became a citizen of the world through tennis, traveling to every continent except Australia and New Zealand.
Our children should be inspired through the different arts to not only see themselves as Americans but also as citizens of the universe.
It would be tremendously beneficial if the local government and community as a whole would rally and support the endeavors and philanthropism of Toshiko Tompkins, the founder and CEO of the Naples Ballet, at 1005 Fifth Ave. N. (Phone 732-1000, email Dance@Naplesballet.org.)
Each year the organization allocates tremendous amounts of resources to performances and scholarships to underprivileged children.
It would be wonderful for our children to know and feel in their hearts that our community is fully supportive of their dreams and aspirations of becoming prolific dancers that would someday perform on glorious stages such as our Naples Philharmonic and other big-city theaters. Perhaps, the next Carlos Acosta or Alina Cojocaru lives amongst us, but we will never know unless we try.
In my humble opinion I believe it would be very rewarding and advantageous if the local government would build a performing arts center that would be accessible to Naples Ballet and other performing arts companies so they are able to put on more shows, which would help boost the cultural diversity image of our community, and help our young dancers gain the necessary experience required to be the principal dancers of the future. The local government should provide funds and grants for shows, and local businesses should be given incentives to help sponsor these shows.
Toshiko has invested a great deal of her personal resources and time in the children, who are the future of our community and the country. It is up to each and everyone of us to become involved in whatever capacity we can to improve our community. Remember, "Home is where the heart is." Let's take care of our home and hearts.