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Keep it moving: 4 women of colour embrace the joy and understated power of sport

From dressage to open water swimming, these athletes and enthusiasts have been shot in their element

16 Jul 2021

For many women of colour, the pandemic has been tough. Our families have been impacted harder by coronavirus, we’ve faced higher rates of unemployment and, unsurprisingly, our happiness and life satisfaction has been lower compared to men of colour, as well as white men and women.

Whew. OK, thank you statistics. Essentially, we need a large serving of joy – and for some, participating in or watching sport can be the source of this. Sport makes us move, cry or cheer with unadulterated delight; it can bring meaning and force us to think in new ways, and it can unify disparate groups. 

Sometimes we underestimate the importance and power of joy, but it is an act of resistance.

The world can be a tiring place, and it takes a lot to switch the noise off and focus on something that brings you happiness. There is a quiet, understated power in the ability to do this.

And when a person of colour finds joy in an activity where they are underrepresented, they are doing something powerful. Not only by taking time to focus on a passion, but by simply existing and occupying an unfamiliar space, they are in turn encouraging others to take up space or create their own.

“If you fill your life with things and people that bring you joy, it makes the challenges and difficult days easier to get through”

Tegan Vincent-Cooke

As Audre Lorde wrote, “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them and lessens the threat of their difference.”By sharing our happiness, we connect and bond with each other, and our resistance grows.

For Keep it moving, shot in lockdown, I spoke to and filmed four women of colour who each have a passion for a different sport: ballet, skateboarding, dressage and open water swimming.

Capturing all four women across various points during lockdown not only brought me a sense of joy to be able to see four women of colour doing something they love, but it also convinced me to consider swimming and book a lesson!

Marie Astrid Mence, Ballet dancer

Marie, 28, is a ballet dancer and part of Ballet Black – the UK’s first ballet company for people of Black and Asian descent. Marie has moved around the world pursuing her passion, from her birth city of Paris to New York, and now London. 

“Joy is something to keep precious. We have it when we are children and unfortunately lose it when we have to face responsibilities to become good adults. Joy is to be light, positive, dreamy, playful! It is one way to stay balanced in our emotions and nurture our creativity. I find joy in ballet because I find joy in challenges.  

Ballet is not in my family’s culture. I did ballet because my parents, especially my dad, thought it would be a plus for my education and posture because it teaches you discipline, elegance and creativity. I kept going because it was honestly something that I was intrigued by and also because there were no black ballet dancers in ballet companies when I was younger.”

Zuleha Oshodi, skateboarder

From East London, Zuleha, 25, dabbled in skateboarding at university, but really got into the sport – which will feature in the Olympics for the first time this year – after graduating. Her participation in it has allowed her to become part of a community.

“It’s important to be joyful because it’s a reminder to have fun in this roller coaster we call life. I find joy in skateboarding because of the adrenalin, the freedom and the easy spirit that the community brings to it. With skateboarding, you’re always learning and growing, both in skill-set and mind frame.”

Tegan Vincent-Cooke, dressage rider

Tegan, 20, fell in love with dressage – which she describes as “ballet on a horse” – when she was very young. The Bristol-born rider has cerebral palsy and first got into equestrian sports to help relieve her muscles, and it quickly turned into a passion. Tegan is currently aiming to become the UK’s first black Para-dressage rider to compete in the Paralympics when it is held again in 2024. 

“I feel it’s important to be joyful in life in order to live it to its fullest. If you fill your life with things and people that bring you joy, it makes the challenges and difficult days easier to get through. 

I started dressage by chance, just because I was given the opportunity to try it and I would never say no to an extra ride. But dressage for me is so rewarding as I train and put in so much work – once things come together and work out, it’s just the best feeling. 

It’s all about training and progression; when you’re competing, you’re judged on how well you’ve trained. The joy comes in when all your hard work pays off. Even if you don’t win, little achievements within your partnership are just as rewarding and bring just as much joy.” 

Momtaz Begum-Hossain, open water swimmer

Throughout her childhood and teens, Momtaz, was terrified of the water. But after facing her fears and learning how to swim as an adult, she began exploring wild settings. Momtaz now loves open water swimming for its meditative qualities and health benefits. 

“For me, joy is an infectious energy that lifts my spirits. When I’m feeling joy, I can’t stop smiling and beaming out positive energy. I aim to generate joy on a daily basis, and I think that’s why I’m such a positive person. 

Open water swimming, on one hand, is a form of fitness. But I’m more drawn to the other side, that it’s an activity that feels liberating – it gives me freedom and a sense of peacefulness and space. Being in the water is my ‘me time’; it’s very personal. I love feeling the cool water lapping on my skin – it’s as though I’m a part of the elements. I go swimming when it’s sunny, raining, in daylight and I even tried a night swim. All of them made me feel proud of myself – swimming gives me a sense of accomplishment which is a natural way of feeling joy.”