Kelma Jean

Updated: Feb 19

Kelma is a final year Medical Sciences undergraduate at the University of Exeter. In this post, read about her experiences with different university societies, her new journey with movement art forms, and Cami Árboles, a BIPOC creative she looks up to.

'Initially, I thought the University of Exeter was such a diverse place. I went to an International School in Germany prior for 5 years and although there were many nationalities present, there weren’t many black people, far less of Caribbean decent. I’m from Saint Lucia and I missed being around people who were somewhat familiar with my culture. The first group of people I socialized with in Exeter were part of the African Caribbean society. I felt at home again but for a while, I became disillusioned about the treatment of BIPOC students at University because of how inclusive this society was.

I also joined another society (@legiondanceexeter ) which prided itself on its culturally diverse members and how accepting they were. Some of my most cherished memories at university were made during my time spent with Legion (formally called URBN). They helped me to move past my dancing insecurities and training in a diverse array of styles improved my overall skill. I received unconditional support from my coaches and the other members. They became my family.

Legion dance society welcomed everyone with open arms and was a support system of strong women who encouraged each other instead of competing. I joined the committee in year 2 and become their first Caribbean fusion dance coach. This led to so many new collaborative creative opportunities such as performances during the Black History month celebrations, @exeter_femsoc ‘s Women and minority genders of colour arts night, and @exeteruniacs ‘s Culture Shock showcase.

On and off-campus in Exeter, I experienced quite a bit of racism, discrimination and was often fetishized due to the hypersexualization of black Caribbean women. This was really difficult to cope with and impacted my mental health but being part of supportive culturally inclusive societies like Legion and the ACS helped me cope with that.'

'I loved my time spent being a member and dance coach of @legiondanceexeter . It helped me grow so much, not only as a dancer, but as a woman. However, for my final year, I decided to explore different creative endeavors. My creativity goal, for my final year of uni, was to broaden my artistic repertoire and explore different movement centered art forms.

My main focuses currently are yoga and flexibility training. Initially I started yoga purely with the hope of learning how to do a front and middle split but I fell in love with it through the process. I recently started choreographing + dancing again and it’s insane how much my skill has improved as a result of this.

I also joined the university’s pole fitness society ( @uepolefitness ) this term but the week I finally booked an in person session to learn beginners pole, the Coronavirus lockdown began and my class was cancelled! Once lockdown ends though, I definitely plan to explore this art form.'

A BIPOC Creative That Inspires You?

'A BIPOC creative I really look up to is Cami Árboles ( @camiarboles ). There are sooo many reasons I admire her. She is a Yale graduate, pole dancer, certified yoga instructor and has also dabbled in different aerial dance styles. Cami is extremely talented but also genuinely the sweetest soul and is always trying to uplift women and femmes specifically. I came across her Instagram account earlier this year whilst quarantining.

Pole was something I was considering but a lot of internal fear of judgement prevented me from voicing my desire to try this art form. Her IG stories and posts motivated me to explore the idea more and commit to trying it out. I commented this under one of her posts and she responded saying, “GO FOR IT!! I support you. If anything, others will perceive you as strong, creative, beautiful and powerful on the pole!!!!♥️.” This message gave me the extra push I needed to make sure I actually actioned my words and worked towards my movement goals. It isn’t often that one of your role models on social media actually responds to you, far less hypes and encourages you!!

She has been the main inspiration in my movement journey this year and I started doing her monthly chakra yoga programmes ( @themindbodyspiritcollective ) which have caused my creativity, confidence, self love and skill to evolve immensely in such a short period of time. It’s still so surreal to me that she not only actually knows that I exist but also has highlighted my creative expression by posting one of my passion projects on her yoga insta page!!! Every time she responds to one of my messages or compliments my dancing/yoga, I feel extremely grateful and in awe.'

Photography by Hanife H Photos @hanifehphotos and graphics by Andrea de Jong.

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