Bradford born Elishia Edwards is a model, dancer and artist. Only in her early 20’s she’s already danced with Stormzy at the Brits, been photographed for Vogue, walked the catwalk at London Fashion Week, become a JD Sports Ambassador, been signed to a LA music label and mentored for several years by Grammy Award-winning artist Chrisette Michele. Yet speaking with her, it feels like her journey is only just getting started.
“I want to be a star,” was the only response Elishia gave as a child when asked who she wanted to be when she grew up. “Most people thought it was a pipe dream and that I should get a real job,” she explains, “Coming from Bradford I had to battle for people to take me seriously.” So Elishia found that she had to create her own opportunities to achieve her dreams, “they just weren’t available in the city,” she says.
Growing up on Canterbury estate, opportunities to nurture Elishia’s talent were hard to come by in the form of classes, however speaking about her mum’s role in her journey Elishia says “The most expensive thing I received was the love, support and encouragement from home,” which you can tell has been the foundation on which Elishia has built her life.
She credits the Bradford based youth group of MAPA for the beginning of her dance career. Their weekly disco was a place to practise routines and where she learned to grow in confidence and express her artistry. “The only way I know how to dance is by giving back to the community,” she explains, and for many years her training ground was reinvesting her talents amongst the disadvantaged youth of Bradford through groups like BYDP, Brathay and X-Plosion. The feeling of the adrenaline hit she got whilst performing at Sheffield Arena in ‘Rock Challenge’ during this time, and the effect of inspiring others is a buzz that she still searches for today, as a guiding light in her career choices.
The percentage of people who ‘make it’ within the industry is very small, and Elishia’s route to success hasn’t been simple or straightforward, and certainly not handed to her on a plate – she’s had to fight hard for it.
Her own drive to live a life she loves has helped her overcome various challenges. Many in the industry have had some financial backing from parents in order to succeed, but Elishia has had to work a minimum wage job in order to save up for lessons, photoshoots, video shoots and flights to jump start her career. Incredibly, she’s also navigated the huge challenge of being a dancer with Dyspraxia – a neurological disorder that affects coordination and spatial awareness. “I don’t know my left from my right, so I had to rewire my brain to pick up dance routines,” she describes.
Another obstacle was her lack of formal training within the arts, which meant that nearly every professional dance college turned her away, until one used their ‘wild card’ placement with her. She entered a privileged environment as the ‘worst dancer’ in the class and left as the centerpiece for every show. “It was like being in a tv drama,” she explains, “I was the only black girl in my year and the other girls got envious of my look because it wasn’t hard to get noticed by casting directors and important people.”
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges she faced was in 2016 when her older sister tragically died at the age of 28. Elishia talks about it being a pivotal moment in her life. “I made a promise to myself that I’d never waste a day of my life,” she says, and since then has committed to doing something every day that helps her move closer to her goals. “My sister’s slogan was ‘never lose hope’ and especially in these COVID times I think that’s really encouraging.”
She now spends the majority of her time continuing to pursue her dreams whilst living in London, because that’s where the industry is based. However, she’s still searching for her sense of belonging there and says “the only thing I love about London is being on stage…My home is fifty percent on the stage, and fifty percent in Bradford!” When asked further about Bradford, she comes alive. “Oh my gosh, I love Bradford!” She describes how people are so friendly compared with London, that “people smile on the street and say thank you.” She talks animatedly about how she expects to make six new friends by the end of a bus trip into town and about how her ‘real relationships’ are mainly up north.
As you speak with Elishia, you get the vibe that ‘becoming a star’ for her is more like a need to fulfill a destiny rather than a dream. It’s as if her future self knows what’s possible and is calling her forward. She decided early on to never take the ‘road most travelled’ or settle for an average life doing a job that she hated. Instead she wants to earn a living by doing what she loves, and to do that the only route forward is by staying true to herself.
It’s well known that the world of entertainment is tough. “People see you as an asset to fulfil their own goals,” Elishia says. However, she has found a principle that has helped protect her choices. “I’m not in it for fame or clout. If I was, I’d lose myself and end up taking the wrong opportunities. When you have talent, you’re responsible for becoming the very best version of yourself that you can.”
So far she’s learnt some valuable life lessons: to let her heart lead her navigation rather than her head or the opinions of others; that happiness is a journey and not a destination and that last year’s lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is that life is all about people.
She knows that fulfilling her potential has involved a lot of hard work, and will continue to do so. It’s required her dedication and focus, and she’s well aware that she can’t expect anyone else to do the heavy lifting for her. Elishia believes that nothing is impossible – there are no limits in life for her. There are no divisions between her disciplines, only opportunities to express her artistry through performance. With such potential, belief, determination and unrestrained creativity we can anticipate great things ahead for Elishia, so watch this space!