Shaila was born in Kenya. At 2 years old her family moved to Canada. She was raised in Toronto near Jane and Sheppard. Shaila is currently in her final year of her Masters in Dance program at York University, researching how somatic movement and belly dance can be integrated into psycho-therapeutic practices.
Growing up did you ever experience discrimination? Did you feel like an outsider?
I think feeling racially ambiguous and coming from a diaspora that isn't traditional or doesn't have a solid lineage or community, but occasionally be racialized was really complicated. I wanted to hide and blend, because white people felt more comfortable if they felt I was more white or would exoticize me if they decided i was "other" depending on their mood. Brown people thought I had the same shared experiences and cultural expectations as them, but being from a multicultural background, where your "culture" is just a hybrid of several aspects, I felt awkward and unsure who was my people or place was. I just coasted or costumed. I think there were times where I tried to be more goth when growing up, or more obviously Indian, or more Middle-Eastern or East-African, just so I could feel I landed somewhere where others would accept me. People will pick scripts for you that they are most comfortable with and still decide to view me. I still feel I can be a chameleon and sometimes need help to see how able-bodied I am, or how being racially ambiguous can benefit me and where it hinders.
What did your parents think of you?
My parents knew that I was a weird artsy kid, writing plays, scripts, dancing, acting… whatever I could. They knew this when I was five-year old that wanted to be a Bollywood actresss. I walked around with bells ( ghungroo) all the time, dancing it up and performing for everyone. I also would try to create drama with my sister and whomever I could so that I would get attention from them. My parents were humble and life experiences taught them to hide, whereas I needed to be seen and heard. They also expected me to carry good traditional morals and be the big sister. So I was always in conflict with myself, wanting to branch out, but didn't want to rock the boat, so I didn't until much later until my early 20's.
Would you describe your self as confident or insecure?
I think being vulnerable is a new kind of confident. I always appeared to be confident, to protect myself from potential danger or harm. It is new for me to say that some relationships make me feel insecure or unsure or unmet. It is new for me to say that there is so much for me to learn and to grow from. Being able to do this is a new kind of confidence i haven't had before.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I have led of life of working hard, multiple jobs and hustles, but I am tired of valuing my productivity and self-worth on producing. I want to feel more enough, by meeting my energy where it is at instead of being angry or annoyed when i can't just "do it".
I want to be able to support others in radical ways. As women there is double expectations to be open-minded, to be generous with our energy and somehow to be content within. I want to talk about self-care in a way that isn't solo or a way to pressure release, but to talk about the role isolation, expectations and our internal critic plays in creating anxiety and depression.
I want to help others find a connection to themselves and how to cultivate community to support mental health. I just want to teach others to be in their bodies more and more. I see myself rolling around in a studio and using play and sensuality as way of addressing the trauma of being "productive". This is a practice I need for myself.
What does ‘audacity’ mean to you?
Audacity means shaking in your boots, hijacking your nervous system sometimes and still having the ability to say I am worthy and deserving, even if that voice is a tiny tiny squeak. It means making an entrance even if your conditioning and society reminds you you’re not smart enough, educated enough, experienced enough, don't fit enough and being able to announce that you are here.