When Ndem Nkeng, 29, signed up for the Employment Focus program, all she wanted was a job. Instead, she found a way to transform her childhood dream into a wonderful new career. As told to Diane Hill
It’s so cliché, but when I was three I saw a girl break-dancing in the movie Breakin’. That was it. I said, “When I grow up, I want to be a dancer!”
When I signed up for the program, I had just finished an admin contract at a dance studio. I thought it might get me into dance, but it didn’t. I could learn the routines, but wasn’t allowed to perform. I’d never had formal training and I didn’t fit into the costumes.
I wasn’t doing very well back then. I was very depressed. I’d had a lot of trauma growing up. We’d moved a lot, and my dad was extremely strict. I was bullied at school. When I first came to the YWCA, I was kind of broken.
The first day in the employment program, they asked everyone about their interests and I’m thinking, “I’m so done with this pipe dream of dancing. Just give me my typing skills—I need a job!” But Rita, the facilitator, kept throwing out ideas about how to turn your passion into a career. I kept having these “aha” moments, like WOW! At break, she pulled me aside and said, “So you like to dance! Can you do a class at lunch?” I ended up leading a class
every day and the ladies loved it!
The program taught me how to do career research, plus computer training, interview prep, and financial literacy.
I kept looking for jobs related to dance, but they all needed formal training. So I volunteered at a community centre, teaching dance in an informal fitness kind of way. I spent hours figuring out new routines, listening to music, watching dance videos. It was a lot of work, but like Rita says, when you love something you don’t mind working hard for it.
I wanted to become a certified fitness trainer but it cost $800, which I didn’t have. When I heard the program would cover part of the cost, I said: “Shut the front door!” That was a huge help. Coming back from my first fitness trainer workshop, I was so excited I was shaking!
Everything just exploded from there. Now I’m a certified Zumba instructor. I teach about ten classes a week—I just started one at the University of Toronto. Sometimes I mix in Bollywood and belly dancing. I do an African dance class, too. There’s so many possibilities: seniors’ programs, children’s birthday parties, after-school programs, performing at parties. Right now it’s a part-time income, but I hope it will be full-time soon.