My birth name is Ella: which means complete! But I received Maya Gandaia (pronounced My-a Gan-dye-A) as my Earth: a present from Mother Earth on a magical journey of meditation in early 2017, and so this concept was born! Maya means ‘Illusion’ in Sanskrit, and ‘Gandaia’ is the joy!
I have always loved Maya Angelou and so the name Maya holds even more power and truth in my heart. It has brought me pure joy on this path as a seeker of truth moving from the illusion of my identity to joy and creating this wonderful life: a life I LOVE!
As well as having had an amazing career as a performer, I own and direct Ella Mesma Company: with whom I have enjoyed some incredible opportunities across the globe. I am also an entrepreneur: Business Yoga is a project close to my heart, which is about bringing wellbeing into the office. I am an artist, a yogi, a writer, a teacher, a coach, which is how I arrived here with Maya Gandaia!
My Bio: An established professional artist with over 15 years of experience in dance and movement, I trained at Laban/LSCD and also studied politics at Leeds university. I am of mixed heritage and was born in Canterbury, but grew up in Bristol. I have studied dance in Brazil (first visting in 2004), Cuba (first visiting in 2011), NYC (first visiting in 2009 with a Lisa Ullman scholarship) and the UK. Performance highlights include Russell Maliphant Company, Lea Anderson (The Chomondeleys), Olympics Opening Ceremony. I was a Bench fellow and resident at Casa Latin American Festival (2015), Associate Artist at Dance City (2017), Associate Artist Trinity Centre Bristol (2018), Slate World Artist (2020), Pervasive Media Studio Resident (2020). I curated She Created Her Life Festival, and produced 5 Roots Of Rumba events: an international dance festival. A WCMT grant took her to Brazil and Cuba (2017) and AIDF awards (2018) took me to Capetown collaborating with South African poet Toni Stuart. ‘Maya Gandaia’ translates as ‘Illusion to Joy’ and is an Embodied Alchemy concept I created for empowering creatives to release their fears, re-connect to their passion and power, and create a life of joy. I am also championing a wellness project called Business Yoga which is all about supporting companies to put wellbeing at the heart of our ethos. I am also championing a wellness project called Business Yoga which is all about supporting companies to put wellbeing at the heart of our ethos. With Ella Mesma Company, ‘Ladylike’ was runner up as ‘Best Dance Production of The Year’ LUKAS Awards (2018). Highlights include recent work Foreign Bodies: An Underwater Love Story, funded by Arts Council of England and Metal (Liverpool). The company has been commissioned by Sadler’s Wells (Wildcard 2017), RBKC (2015) Metal (2018), Breakin Convention (2011, 2012), Women’s International Leadership Conference, NYC (2017), National Circus Centre (2018), ICA Festival, Capetown (2018), IETM (2019). I have studied yoga since 2004, and trained to teach Vinyasa yoga with Abby Hoffman (Embodied Dancer Teacher Training) in 2011 (with a Gil Clarke Scholarship), then Kundalini at the Karam Kriya School in 2018 and with Yoga Body (Yoga Trapeze) in 2020. I have also practised Ashtanga since 2015, and have delved into various Embodiment trainings such as TRE, The Wheel Of Consent (Like a Pro), HPC (Holistic Pelvic Care) with Tami Kent and the coaching of William Whitecloud to Mastery level. My first dance was Salsa: I started to dance it aged 14 in Bristol. I was also the founder of EAC (Element Arts Company) in Leeds (now handed over to the collective and managed by Hannah Bertram). I took this company to gigs across the world (Including two visits to India), we won a salsa competition in 2008, and featured on tv shows and in music videos including for the talented and sadly missed ‘Ty’. I was Rainha da Bateria for London School of Samba in 2007, and a passista in Rio in 2006. I took up breaking (breakdance) in Birmingham where she also worked for Birmingham Royal Ballet, Dance@Highbury and Fox Hollies. Breaking was a refreshing alternative to the Latin world, and my most recent creation in lockdown ‘I am all womxn‘ has received over 6,500 views on facebook.
So yeah… I have created a lot… professionally and personally!
But for a long time I felt far from it… in fact I wonder how much of this early success was truly from love or mixed up with my feelings of not being good enough.
Growing up I had huge issues of identity around feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere: in my home town, in my family, amongst friends: I lived under the illusion that I was a mistaken zygote (A word created by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés explained in her wonderful book Women Who Run With Wolves). I am so grateful I found dance, and later yoga, which put me on this path and helped me finally realise that the tragic romantic story of not belonging anywhere was just a story my ego had made up to keep my small and ‘safe’ from reaching my true potential in all its glory and with all its perfect imperfections!
So then I began this path… this heroines journey of self discovery and of course I came up against all sorts of obstacles: being told I shouldn’t, I can’t, but I persevered, I persisted, I twisted, I turned… and my wings grew stronger… and finally I emerged from my chrysalis with many many hats and a motivation for excellence! I realised the true secret in life is I can be whoever I want to be, that I can try on all these hats… I can even eat grapes (since forever I thought grapes were the one most disgusting thing on earth… but as I embarked on this journey, I realised that even this was an illusion: something my 4 yr old self made up!) Now I relish in life, in all this deliciousness unapologetically!
And here is my path all the way here:
I grew up in a small town (Faversham) with an amazing beautiful Mother of mixed heritage who taught me French showed me the world and to lose myself in books, and a rockstar Dad who taught me all things science and logic. I loved art, languages and nature, but I never danced until we moved to Bristol aged 11.
I found Bristol tough… I was a dreamer from the countryside trying to fit myself into city life and an inner city school where I really saw and experienced segregation on a different level. I learnt how to conform, how to ‘fit in’ how to ‘pretend to be somebody else’. I changed the way I dressed, I became quiet, I stopped doing a lot of the things I loved to do. I was saved when I discovered Salsa aged 14 via a friend whose Dad’s partner was Latina. Salsa was my first love. I was invited to teach it in school as an after school club whcih I loved! I also discovered Brazilian music (Axé from Bahia), but I thought I would never be accepted for this so I kept my stash a secret!
I studied Politics and Sociology (because I learnt that that was what I should do) but at the same time I also began my dance career in Leeds, getting paid to perform Afro Latin & Brazilian styles (touring the UK and internationally with shows and workshops under the name Element Arts (during and after uni) and making it my mission to become the first gringa passista in Rio (2006). After uni I was invited to apprentice with a contemporary company in Leeds, and I loved it! I had finally plucked up the courage to do what I wanted, but when the company went bust, I decided I had to find a way to continue the training… (although in between making that magic happen I had to work and make miracles to get the money together… plus I went to Brazil… I spent 3 months in Rio, and another month in Salvador (where I fell in love with the circus and learnt to speak Portuguese)…
I saved and I saved and I scrimped and I broke until I had enough money to train at Laban in London, but I found it such a struggle: balancing the fees, saving more money to live, the rigorous training, my inner negative voice, that I broke… and I quit and ran away to Turkey where I played Juliet in a Hip Hop Romeo and Juliet. Then I got a scholarship to NYC and I fell even deeper in love with Salsa training with Angel (RIP) learning to dance On 2, and breaking: training with Rokafella. Then I came back to the UK because I had been accepted at the London School of Contemporary Dance, and my fees at Laban where so high I could afford to take them and invest them in another year of training, and I studied hard, and eventually I managed to turn my postgraduate into an MA!
At the Place (London School of Contemporary Dance), I also studied yoga with Abby Hoffman (Embodied Dancer Teacher Training). I began yoga in Leeds in 2000 at university, but at The Place I fell in love with it! In 2011, that same teacher invited me to be her first follower (with a Gil Clarke Scholarship) and I trained as a yoga teacher… I honestly think that was my salvation… it was the first time I really began to feel ok in the skin I was in… Finally, after years teaching and self studying, In 2018 I came back to study… this time as a Kundalini teacher, training with the Karam Kriya School.
Almost as soon as I finished my dance training my dream came true and I was invited to apprentice with Upswing Circus specialising in silks… but then in I had a voicemail on my phone from Russell Maliphant: a choreographer I had looked up for for many years, asking me to R&D for his company, and so (after nerves around making the first phonecall), I quit everything to join his company and decided to dedicate myself to dance 100%. Some of my most epic performance memories include touring internationally with the Russell Maliphant Company (The Rodin Project) (best moment NYC, worst moments: the lows of company life: big personalities and egos (including my own), plus I was still living with my imposter syndrome), performing for Lea Anderson (Trying it On: The Chomondeleys) (just a wonderful experience in every way! Best moment: impersonating Elvis!), the Olympics Opening Ceremony (wonderful memories of my first deep meditative experiences and profound friendships) as well as the WCMT and AIDF awards which took me to Brazil, Cuba and South Africa where I worked with an incredible poet and artist: Toni Stuart.
I decided to pursue my childhood dream of making my own art and so I created Ella Mesma Company, premiering with a solo at Breakin Convention: a total dream come true! (This was also the show that Russell Maliphant saw and based on this invited me to join the company). I have since been so lucky to have been commissioned by Sadler’s Wells (Wild Card), Dance City (as Associate Dance Artist 2016-2017) and the National Circus Centre (Papyllon), as well as having had my work performed at The ICA Festival in South Africa (Papyllon) and at the Women in Dance Leadership Conference in New York (Ladylike). The work tends to focus around healing, uplifting, transformation, and the path for enlightenment! Ladylike was also second place for best production for the Lukas awards (Latin UK Awards) 2018. I also decided to bring back my love of silks and made a solo around my own path for enlightenment called Papyllon (inspired by the life cycle of the butterfly).
After a tough break up I began a journey of much deeper learning. I had a feeling that I had acted out or somehow made the break up happen and I wanted to further understand myself and all the thoughts and feelings going on inside of my mind. I found Natural Success, and this work around subconscious really spoke to me: what an amazing adventure of self discovery and realisation it has been! I can’t believe how much my life has changed as all my limiting self beliefs and fears have slowly fallen off. I took this work to mastery level and along the way met all sorts of wonderful mentors including Mooji and William Whitecloud.
I knew singing was connected to my happiness as in my happiest times I always sang the loudest, but as this journey began, I uncovered my voice. I also began to listen to my inner voice: my intuition. As a bgirl, for years I learnt to value my coaches voice over my own, to push down the voice telling me when to stop, when to rest, when to see nature, when to say no… I was in a very male dominated world and somehow I lost my way and my ability value the feminine, so this finding of my voice also meant hearing myself… reconnecting to me, listening to what I needed, learning again to speak up and stand tall. I also began to experiment with my dress: and really fell in love with style and self expression around this time: now one of my goals is to create my own brand of clothing!
This path has been a beautiful one, and the creation of The Path For series and Business Yoga has been full of reward: seeing others transform and witnessing the transformation within me. I went back to yoga training recently, after connecting to my intuition, and I have also been passionately developing this series: The Path For over the past few years, as well as collaborating with some amazing artists also on their journeys of transformation: such as Tichea Brade (She Created Her Life), Nik Barrera (Vamos Festival) and Danielle Byars (Lioness Wellness). As my creativity is further unleashed on this path, I have also been trying all sorts of exciting new things: from my singing in my most recent theatre piece to getting back to art (which I LOVED at school and college!), to womb work, to djing: the world is my oyster… and YOURS too!