Share details about your cultural background
I was born in Abu Dhabi the capital of the United Arabe Emirates and lived there for a few years as a child. My mom is Syrian and my father is Jordanian both of Palestinian descent. So I’m an eclectic person who is composed of various Arab backgrounds and traditions.
How would you describe your childhood/how you grew up?
Wow ok!! Here comes the truth bomb. I grew up in a very religious family yet I was the only sibling out of 5 who didn’t practice (the black sheep you would say). I think my childhood was amazing because although we were traditional and religious my parents allowed me to dance and do sports. It got tough when I got older as a teen because I wanted to become a professional dancer but my parents, like many parents, did not think that that was a ‘job’ or ‘career’ so I moved out of the house at 16 yrs old to go pursue my dream of dance/fitness/circus.
How would you best describe your role in fitness?
Wow, that’s a great question. I would describe my role in the fitness industry as a trendsetter and new-age leader. I bring a world of inclusivity, possibility, and options to Women in Fitness and especially BIPOC women. I think I’m a great example to many women who feel like changing the narrative about what health and fitness can look like. As a Muslim woman, I’m also allowing people who may not otherwise feel comfortable or welcome in these spaces to find a sense of belonging. I want people to know that ALL BODIES can participate and enjoy fitness. If this 5’4 girl from the UAE can do it so can YOU!!! I was very lucky to work in the fitness industry with directors and managers who look beyond my skin colour and could see the possibilities I can bring as a fitness director and manager.
How did you find your interest in fitness?
I feel like Fitness Found me and we haven’t left each other since (lol). I was a professional dancer, performer, circus artist for many years, and when I had a life-altering injury (Tore my groin) and I couldn’t do what I used to do before. I had to make a choice and fitness was my choice because it changed my life, saved my body, and gave me back my mental sanity. I remember going to my first canfitpro conference almost 18 yrs ago and I was hooked, and never left the industry.
How does exercising make you feel (before/during/after)?
Exercise makes me feel alive, it’s all the things I cannot express through words that come out of my body during a class or workout. Before I move, I feel so excited to connect to my soul and inner child. During the exercises, I feel alive like I’m here right now in the moment having this dialogue/connection with my body, and after I feel beautiful, capable, and ready to take on anything life throws at me :))
How have you experienced rascism in fitness or as a fitness professional/owner?
Racism is everywhere and I honestly choose not to pay attention to it. But yes, I have definitely experienced racism on so many levels, so many times. It’s hard for people to imagine that an Arab, Muslim, Short Girl can be this successful in fitness, it’s like I don’t match the profile ever but I don’t care because once I speak or move then they realize I’m the real deal. When I walk into a meeting at times I can see their disappointment or disbelief that I’m the Fit Pro, and not a blonde, blue-eyed, tall, skinny girl. Ohh well, here I come Felicia, too bad for you.
Do you feel that you are treated differently than some of your co-workers, fellow owner/operators? If yes, in what way?
Not treated differently, but I’ve definitely had to work harder and have someone on a higher level vouch for me. In a way, it’s like they don’t expect much from me but then they are so blown away by the talent, knowledge, and expertise I possess. I like to surprise them and keep them on their feet.
Do you think you were passed over on a promotion because of your skin colour; or was it a contributing factor?
Maybe, but honestly, we will never know. I’ve definitely been passed over on different opportunities because I don’t fit the criteria. I got used to it because I was a professional dancer for many years, rejection becomes normal. But guess what…when they need a « Jlo looking girl », I always get the job haha. I think businessmen and women are smart enough to look past your skin colour when it comes to business. They can tell by the way you speak and how you carry yourself if you possess the expertise they need.
In your role/business how are you helping BIPOC individuals get hired, promoted, or recognized?
It’s funny because I get asked that question a lot and I have always been hiring BIPOC individuals wayyyyyyyy before the conversations became mainstream. In my role as a fitness director and Founder of Hot Booty Ballet, I always give opportunities to BIPOC individuals because just like me, they come with a whole different set of tools/knowledge/expertise that we can benefit from. I help them understand how to approach different situations and conversations that some leaders may not see them in. It’s important to close the gap and give them the tools for new opportunities and or help them create their own.
Are you actively doing something to promote fitness to your [BIPOC/Religious] community? If so, tell us about it
Absolutely we are doing fun stuff such as:
- offering discounts to BIPOC communities for classes
- offering BIPOC only classes to facilitate a safe space
What advice would you share to fitness businesses ready to make systemic changes in their organizations?
I think we need to just see BIPOC people as human beings first, and hire people based on their skills and experience regardless of what nationality they are. There is no reason to see a BIPOC person any differently. My advice would be to talk to the leaders and help them include BIPOC communities in their businesses and take some classes and courses on systematic change in the workplace. This battle will only be won one company at a time.
There is a lack of BIPOC in leadership in the fitness industry, how do you see this changing in the next 3 to 5 years, and what needs to happen for this imminent change ?
The fitness industry and all industries need are run by mostly white people who need to allow space for more diversity. I see us in the next 3 to 5 years having a lot more conversations that will change the current thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours that are currently set in place. Imminently we need to allow inclusion on all levels of the company and really showcase change through our actions.