I grew up in a small town in the South East of England in the UK. I was the first child to an amazing beautiful Mother, born in Leeds of mixed heritage who taught me French, showed me the world and to lose myself in books. My Dad, a longhaired rock star science teacher, taught me all things science and logic. I loved art, languages and nature, but I rarely danced. In fact, I was too shy and too embarrassed to do anything like that in public!
My parents gave me everything they could: education, food, love. They always said one day I would go to university: they were both the first generation to have gone to university and success and career was important. Aged four, I remember being happy, bubbly, cheeky and playful, but as young as seven, I began feeling depressed and becoming introverted; I stopped feeling ‘myself’.
There is not one particular thing I remember happening that made me feel that way, and as I said, my parents did everything they could, but perhaps a contributing factor was that we were in a very small town in the eighties. At my school, I was one of only three children of colour (albeit a very light skinned one). One of those other children was my beautiful little sister, who was five years younger than me, and the other, a boy, Wesley in the year above. My Mum made sure we had a really good representation of people of colour in our story books growing up, but still I didn’t speak so much about my identity with my family, (perhaps because I was the lighter skinned sibling, or perhaps because my Mum hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about her own identity growing up). My otherness was often pointed out to me at school though and I began to believe I was ‘different’ in both environments.
I could never quite understand why, but I was convinced there was something wrong with me; I didn’t fit. One of my favourite ‘make believe’ games was that I was an orphan feeling sorry for myself as I did the washing up: I think a part of me actually enjoyed this story! I believed I was a mistaken zygote (A word created by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés explained in her wonderful book Women Who Run With Wolves) I enjoyed feeling a bit sorry for myself; a ‘tragic romantic’ story.
After studying in an all girls grammar secondary school for a year, my family moved to Bristol and I joined a new secondary school, an inner city school where I really saw and experienced segregation on a different level, and with boys in my classes. I found I had forgotten how to talk to boys, and I perceived the girls to be untrustworthy and mean. I became more shy, quiet, and got practised at being invisible to survive. I learnt how to conform, how to ‘fit in’ how to ‘pretend to be somebody else’. I dimmed my light, because people who showed what they were passionate about were picked on (or sometimes even beaten up!) and I quickly learnt not to follow what my heart desired but instead prioritise what was ‘cool’. Thankfully, via a friend’s Brazilian step sister, at age 14, I went to a Latin event where I discovered Salsa dance, and a place where many people looked like me, and whilst I might not have disclosed that passion to many people at school, for the first time, I began to feel at home somewhere, and like that bubbly happy me was returning.
I became interested in Chakras (energy centres, each of a different colour, connected archetype and element at different points in the body) from a young age, and I always wore my chakra necklace. I had a book called the Celestine Prophecy, which I read from cover to cover many times, and I felt strongly that there were many truths about our high vibrations, synchronicities and creating a life in line with our soul purpose in this fictional story.
I moved to Leeds to study politics at University, and it was there I first discovered yoga with free daily classes for students. University was a strange time; I didn’t resonate with student life and the drinking culture. Rather than books, I buried my head in waitressing, to raise money to ‘escape’ to far off places. I loved salsa clubs (one in particular called Atrium), and would head there after work to dance the night away.
When I first went to Brazil in 2002, I discovered Samba and a place I felt, I belonged. I returned to Brazil in 2004 on a fundraiser exchange with Circo Picolino, in Salvador. It was here that I first learnt about the Orixás (pronounced Orishas), who are deities of Yoruba influence. Their stories have provided life lessons and growth for me ever since. The Orixás have a divine force or positive energy or vibration called ‘axé’. ‘Axé’ is also defined as the power to create; to make positive energy. We honour each Orixá through dances, rhythms, songs, clothing, and colours. Each deity holds an element of nature, which can also help us to understand our own sacred relationship with nature.
Aged 25, I finally knew that I didn’t want the career that had been set out for me and the only time I felt truly alive was when I was creating and dancing. I had to fight so many of my conditioned thoughts, like the urge to please my family and others, and the urge to be sensible and fit in, rather than to put my desires first and to go for my dreams; but I finally did it. I left Leeds and moved to London to pursue a career in dance.
Training as a professional dancer so late was tough. I felt a lot of pressure to be successful and to prove to everyone that I had made the right choice. At the same time I had an internal authority saying ‘how dare I become an artist and ignore everything that my family had told me?’ ‘Who was I: a ‘nobody’, to think I could be a professional dancer?’ Does this sound familiar at all? My path was also joyful… learning to dance was my dream, and I was seeing the improvements little by little: and I am so grateful for this time! It is just a shame that these doubts were creeping into and overshadowing my fully enjoying the experience.
In my second year of dance training, I really hit rock bottom and burnt out. I was working every hour that I wasn’t at dance school to earn enough money to pay my fees and survive in London. I was travelling across nearly the whole of London to work and get back to my lodgings, meaning I barely had any time for sleep, and as you can imagine as a result of that combination, my dance took a turn for the worst. I forgot what it was to really ‘dance’ because I was beginning to think so much about technical training, and I stopped valuing my skills as a dancer. I had to quit. I just couldn’t see another way forwards: I had lost all my joy for life. I forgot the love and passion I had for dance and all the confidence I had when I used to go to salsa clubs… I was doing everything I could to survive, but I had forgotten ‘that magic’ that led me to dance in the first place.
As well as contemporary dance, (a completely new genre for me at the time), I took up breaking (breakdance), and just in time, at that point of breakdown, I was invited to join a hip hop company for a tour in Turkey playing ‘Jules’, a ‘Bgirl’ (a female breaker) in a modern day Romeo and Juliet. That time was necessary to heal my heart… but my not belonging belief was always there, holding me back from truly enjoying the experience.
I do think that this time helped me to reconnect with my intuition though, and after Turkey, I won a scholarship to NYC to train in breaking and salsa, which was an incredible opportunity. I then returned to London to complete my final
year of dance training at a conservatoire; I even got a scholarship and found a very affordable home near the school! Such a blessing! I felt like my guides were looking out for me. I met another guide: Abby Hoffman, my yoga teacher, who a year later invited me to train as her first student on a yoga teacher-training course.
Back at dance school for my final year, I still hadn’t faced my not belonging belief. Some strong battles with money, wellbeing and an abusive relationship ensued. As a Bgirl I was in a very male dominated world. I wanted so badly to be as strong as the Bboys, and I learnt to value their, and my Bboy coach’s voice over my own. I learnt to push down the voice telling me when my body needed to stop or when to rest, or when to say no.
I went on to have an amazing career as a performer, and the first big job I landed, only a year out of dance school was performing for Russell Maliphant Company, touring the world. Unfortunately, because I didn’t truly believe in myself, that kept being reflected in my experiences, and because I believed I didn’t fit, I found being in the company really difficult.
A few years later, after touring with various companies, I broke up with my partner of three years whom I had hoped I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I had to move out of my house, and my London world began to fall apart. My relationship with my sister broke down, I didn’t want to do company work anymore: I just couldn’t face it, and finally I realised I had felt deeply unhappy for years. I knew I had to change something in my life. I was broken spiritually and emotionally, and I felt that the break up was because there was something wrong with me. I knew I needed to unlearn my unhealthy relationship to work, to others, and I had to learn to love myself.
Thankfully, I was able to listen to that whisper. At that rock bottom place, I could finally hear my intuition again, and I followed an invitation that led me to find alchemy and ‘Natural Success’. It felt like my prayers had been answered, and whilst I found the teachers of the work were triggering all my beliefs, I knew I had found something so powerful that I made a promise to myself to go deep no matter what, and to undo the thinking patterns and beliefs that I had created as a child. I just knew I had to take their training all the way to the end, whether I resonated with the teachers or not! As I learnt to use my intuition powerfully, I was able to realign, to listen to my voice and my heart. Finally, that determination paid off, and alchemy led me to meet my true essence.
The first thing I did after the first part of my alchemy training was to return to Brazil, and let Oxum (an Orixá, pronounced Oshun) heal my heart. Then, I went back into yoga, retraining as a Kundalini teacher, which I had also received intuitively. Kundalini Yoga is often called the yoga of transformation, and is said by some, to have derived from the Orixá system, and the snake deity Oxumare. In Kundalini un-manifested energy is conceptualised as a coiled-up serpent at the base of the spine, (at the root chakra), which we awaken to flow through the body (axé). In Kundalini, our view of the world changes as we awaken to our true essence. I also did a lot of work around boundaries and consent, work around healing my feminine, as well (of course) as a lot of alchemy.
I used a system of journaling, meditation, streams of consciousness and movement practises to keep myself accountable as I began to strip back the layers and get back to my heart. After a lot of unlearning, I came out the other side, and finally understood the true meaning of my name; Ella; that I was already complete.
Since discovering alchemy, I had a lot of intuition on what I needed to create and how I could be of service to the world. I created ‘The PathFor Alchemy’ and ‘The PathFor Joy’ my training programmes, and the ‘The Goddess Path’ and ‘Embodied Alchemy’ my coaching programmes, which combine alchemy, movement, my training in ‘Sekhem’ (an ancient Egyptian form of healing), my discoveries in Brazil with the Orixás, and on my path with yoga.