An insight into my journey as a young, mixed-race female pursuing my passion in the performing arts industry. The growth I have experienced through surrounding myself with like-minded people, immersing myself in the ‘culture’ of dance and training to the maximum has shaped all aspects of my life. Learning to accept and acknowledge vulnerabilities within my dancing and personal life has pushed me to discover new avenues to develop myself, which I am excited to share with you all!
The hardest challenge I have ever had to overcome is learning to navigate the world through my own lens. The most challenging part is that I still can’t place a destination of ‘overcoming’ this, I am constantly learning and growing; hence prolonging the process. Which I don’t mind. I always noticed that the people who inspired me most were those who knew their own artistry, they owned their style and were comfortable in who they are.
Recently, I have consciously understood that I have a long way to go in growing into myself. After enjoying the blissfulness of transitioning to my natural hair, I realised that there was much more growth in myself to look forward to. As a young mixed-raced female aspiring to be successful in the professional dance industry, I have built up a strength, mentally. I have learnt to try and take on criticism positively and to not let it beat me down. This has carried me through many moments in my life, which I am still learning from.
The performing arts industry is tough, cut-throat and brutal, but it is also the most renowned creative outlet in the world.
There have been moments in my life where I wasn’t sure why I was pursuing the career of a performer/dancer. The first time I experienced this was when I had begun my full-time training as a dancer. In hindsight, it was exactly what I needed to ignite the fire in me. As a young female who took pride in achieving well academically, it was always made apparent to me that going to university would be the ‘easier’ or more ‘secure’ pathway. But that didn’t seem at all appealing to me. It was always just known to me that I would train hard to pursue my dream of becoming a professional dancer.
The most difficult part of this life choice was explaining to people what this meant; well those who weren’t familiar with the performing arts industry. I noticed during this time that for most people within society, if you were not going to university or starting a trade – you were on a GAP YEAR.
This always infuriated me. I found it difficult to understand why people still didn’t accept that university wasn’t the only way to have a career. I hope to complete my academic studies eventually, but right now my career as a dancer is THE most important
thing to me. Back then, eventually these comments cast doubt in my mind. I didn’t know whether I was mentally and physically strong enough to make it through a year of intense training. It took an emotional event in my life to help me come to the realisation that I was going to do whatever it took to fulfil my dreams. Any other aspirations would have to wait.
Dancing has been my passion for as long as I remember. I feel extremely blessed to have something so consistent in my life which ultimately brings me more purpose. It gives me drive. Ambition. Intention. It is important to me that I remind myself of what dancing truly means to me. My whole life revolves around it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Every aspiring dancer constantly fears ‘not making it’. It’s always lingering when you don’t get that call back or when you don’t book consistent work. I have always tried to understand what the successful dancers did during their younger years to get to where they are. I wanted to create my own path; one which would get me to where I wanted to be. Through hearing from industry professionals, I quickly learnt that this path wouldn’t happen overnight, it wouldn’t come as I wished for it. I had to be patient and put in the work.
Being of an Ghanaian and South-African ethnic background, I knew that accepting and embracing my culture would help my journey. It makes sense. That being comfortable in my true skin would embellish myself as an artist. The moment I recognised the beauty in my culture was the moment I gave myself the opportunity to succeed as an artist/performer. I am not as in touch with my African background as I could be, and this became apparent as I transitioned back to my natural hair. To most people, wearing their natural hair seems straight forward and ‘obvious’, but for me it was a process that taught me a lot about myself. During high school, I would straighten my hair every day. It was dead, broken and just not me. Growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, everyone had long, straight hair. It was the norm. It was very rare for me to come across a mixed-race female who wore their natural hair confidently.
This whole process was a huge struggle for me; I never understood why I didn’t love my own hair and it was a feeling that was constantly bothering me. Funnily enough, I vividly remember my mum trying to convince me of the beauty in my hair; I never believed her until I saw it for myself. As I met the later years of my high school life, I began noticing dancers and artists who wore their natural hair and were ‘validated’ by society as beautiful. It made me realise, so late, that I would feel comfortable in my natural state and that it was absurd that I had been changing my hair for so long. After 2 years of an awkward transitioning phase from dead, straight hair to bouncy, curly hair, I finally love and feel more authentic than I ever have before.
Wearing my hair natural has allowed me to feel more in touch with my culture, find my own uniqueness and acknowledge my ‘look’ as a performer. I never would have thought that
altering a part of my appearance would bring me so many new avenues to unearth about my inner self. Having such a strong support system of my close friends and family really held me up as I was moving into a new moment in my life. They reassured me of myself even when I was completely lost.
An identity crisis.
Those who know me well will often hear me saying, “I am going through an identity crisis”. In other terms, I get confused about my ethnicity and what it really means. I was born in London and moved to Australia with my family when I was 4. My mother is of a Ghanaian/English ethnic background and my father is of an English/South-African background. It seems straight forward… until people constantly refer to you as ‘black’. That was what really rattled me.
“Cameron’s the black girl.”
“I am almost as black as you.”
Being of African background is something I cherish very deeply, however noticing the ways other people spoke about me or about other dark-skinned people in front of me really startled me. I speak from my personal experience only; every person of African background has a different opinion and different understanding which should be known.
It is a very subtle issue within society and most people would disagree with the existence of it, but it is that exact ignorance that makes me question if people are aware of their own actions.
The one thing that brought this entire issue to my attention was when people, often strangers, would feel compelled to touch, pull or even massage my hair. Without my permission. Just read that again.
The amount of times this has happened to me is unimaginable and it is beyond frustrating. I understand my hair looks different to most, I understand my hair feels different to most; but neither of these things can justify running your hands through a stranger’s hair. These incidents helped me to realise that it is my responsibility to educate those who are unaware of the impact their innocent actions can have on other people.
After being comfortable in my natural hair for about 6 months now, I have only just worked up the strength to stop people from invading my personal space and playing with my hair. This strength stemmed from not only being proud of my hair but also from growing into myself as a person.
It was an extremely gradual process. Dancing taught me a lot about appreciating myself for who I am. I am grateful for the choreographers and mentors who emphasised the importance of finding your own uniqueness and using it as your strength. It taught me that
the most powerful gift I have is what no one else does; my ethnicity makes up a sector of this gift.
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must be different.” – Coco Chanel
Dancing has always taught me about myself. Recently, as I have begun my adult life, it has taught me to question what my values are as an individual. During my training and growth as a dancer/human, sexuality has been a notion which has been visited regularly. As a professional dancer it is important to be comfortable with being intimate with others and yourself. I am always in awe of dancers who hold the ability to be ‘sexy’ with just the lift of the head or alternatively a booty shake. You must be able to do both. It is a presence and a way of moving which only you as the dancer have control of, making it very powerful from a male and female perspective.
Learning and appreciating sensual choreography from men and women has allowed me to realise the power one holds in taking authority of their sexuality. Walking down the room in a heel with no other challenge than to enjoy and ‘feel yourself’ is a liberation I am still grateful for.
Embracing and enjoying the moment of feeling sexy as a young woman feeds the soul internally. It’s an intimate process but well worth the journey.
Becoming a woman is something I am always looking forward to.
Written by the powerful and inspiring Cameron Djan Afia Gaw