By: Aleshia Ali
Who am I? Where do I belong? What space am I allowed to take up?
Growing up, these were the questions that I frequently asked myself as a little girl. You see, I’m a hybrid – a product of an Afro-Caribbean Jamaican and Indo-Caribbean Trinidadian. My Afro-Jamaican father was not a part of my life, so I was solely raised by my Indo-Caribbean mother who looked quite different than me. My hair was curly while my mom’s was straight. My skin was dark while my cousins’ were fair. Oftentimes, I felt out of place and wondered why I looked so different. Despite being born and raised in Canada – the most multicultural country in the world – I just couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I was just too black to be Indian, too Indian to be black, and too colored to be “Canadian”.
“I was just too black to be Indian, too Indian to be black, and too colored to be “Canadian”.
Once, I wore a saree to my partner’s work function and was questioned for wearing it because – of course – I present as Black. Other times, I’ve been chided during Black conversations for not being able to “fully” understand because I was mixed. And whenever I tell people I am from Canada, I get asked the forever loaded question: “but where are you really from?”. For the longest time, I felt desperate. Desperate to find the answers to my “questionable” identity and the space to feel 100% accepted. But eventually, this dramatically changed once I found my golden answer… in a Soca fête.
When Two Becomes One
As a little girl, I distinctly remember my mother playing Soca music every Sunday morning. Chipping around the house. Wiping the dust off of picture frames. Hips swaying to the Barbadian giant, Krosfyah’s song “Pump Me Up”. I enjoyed and took comfort in engaging in this weekly tradition in our home. And to this day, my mom often says that I could wine before I could walk. Soca music reminds me of the best times of my life. Backyard barbeques with Uncles drinking Carib. Aunties jumping off their chairs when hearing their favorite song play, and cousins imitating the way their elders danced. Beautiful smiles lit up beautiful brown faces, and waistlines wined without a care. The backyard in my Rexdale home in Toronto, Canada, was the place to be.
Now, let me tell you a little about the genesis of Soca. It originated in Trinidad and Tobago and combines the sounds of Afro Caribbean Calypso with Indian rhythm instruments such as the dholak, tabla, and dhantal. Lord Shorty, “the father of Soca” referred to Soca music as the soul of Calypso which brought together Trinidad and Tobago’s two major ethnic groups – the descendants of African slaves and indentured laborers from India. Like Soca music, I – the hybrid – brought two different worlds into one. When I listen to the rhythms of Soca, I am transported back to those backyard jams where I now realize that I always took up space. While my ethnicity and race may be questioned from time to time, my love for Soca is undeniable. In fact, this love gave birth to something incredibly special – Leeshletics.
My Own Soca Kingdom
Today, I am the proud Founder of Leeshletics, a fitness company based in Toronto. After years of struggling with identity and self-esteem issues, rooted in distorted cultural and beauty standards, I embarked on my fitness journey to become the change I wanted to see. The first few weeks at the gym were tough. But once I put on my favorite Soca playlist, I was able to power through the pain and achieve results. Working out was my happy place and with each workout, I felt strong, sexy and empowered. I knew that this feeling was something I wanted to share with others. And with that, I became a fitness professional and created a space where anyone and everyone can truly belong.
It has been five years since I taught my first fitness class and I have no doubt that I will continue to teach for as long as my body allows me to. People enjoy my classes not only because of the exhilarating feels that my Soca-inspired classes give them, but because I am unapologetically human. I care more about feelings, emotions, and strength – both physical and mental – than weight lost on the scale or inches lost in the body. I encourage people to work to their abilities, accept who they are, and love their bodies unconditionally. Despite losing weight, I still live in a “larger” body. I can’t lie – sometimes I feel self-conscious when I stand in front of my class. I wonder if they will judge me for not looking like the average Instagram fitness model. But the truth is, more people relate to me because of my story and my body that is dark, scarred, unique, and real.
With body positivity being top of mind, I encourage you to take care of your body because you love it – not because you hate it. Focus on how much faster, stronger, and better you are getting as opposed to how much weight you are losing. Focus on achieving a balanced healthy diet that nourishes your unique body and enjoy treats when you want them – not because you have earned them. These are the important pillars of my fitness philosophy that truly gives myself and others a fair chance to feel seen, heard, and celebrated through fitness and health.
Whether it’s through music or fitness, no doubt, Soca has shaped me to become the strong woman that I am today. Soca fuels contagious energy and cultivates space for people to be celebrated. Its fundamental principles of unity, positivity and acceptance are what has and continues to motivate me to share my story through fêteing and sweating!