Dana Khan (Jeffrey) is an accomplished artist who hasn’t stopped working hard on her career, appearing in multiple television shows, commercials, and dance appearances.
She is Guyanese and Ojibwe from Selkirk, Manitoba, but now lives in Mississauga, Ontario, and has been doing work as a performing artist in both acting and dancing. She is also the youth coordinator of an organization called Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, and coordinator of the First Fire Dance Program.
Dana says a big part of her life was starting the First Fire Dance Program at Council Fire, which is a program for ages seven all the way up into early adulthood with different styles of dance taught.
“We’re telling stories through our movement is what I’m trying to say. We talked about missing and murdered Indigenous women. We’ve talked about the residential school system, what it means to reclaim our culture through our dances,” said Dana.
Amongst teaching dance, she’s appeared in TV shows like Anne with an E and performed in a music video for a band called Crown Lands.
“Being a performing artist has opened up a lot of doors, with acting and dance and teaching, it’s really led me in different directions.”
Dana’s journey to the performing arts was something she says, “chose her” and was always dancing, always wanted to perform, and had a love for storytelling.
“I feel like that was just in my blood and it is part of who we are as Indigenous people, we’re storytellers. So it was just a natural evolution,” said Dana.
She also says dance and performing arts helped her through a “really, really dark time” in her life and says it was a way to heal and express herself without having to do so verbally.
Although dance and performing was a natural instinct for her, Dana still went to school and calls her journey both informal and formal.
She started dancing with going to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and went on to York University where she did her fine arts degree focused in dance and was training in ballet, contemporary, modern jazz, and more.
As for the acting, she says it was “pretty informal.”
“At first, it was just watching videos, getting inspired, watching TV. Honestly, when I was younger, I would look at scripts and I would practice them in the mirror,” said Dana.
But in order to do what she wanted to do as a performer, she had to leave her home in Manitoba and move to a big city in another province. She says it was “really, really hard” but what helped her with the transition was staying connected to friends back home and joining groups and connecting with people who had similar interests.
Dana has faced other obstacles within her career of course. Being a performing artist, she says she faces rejection constantly and has moments of self-doubt if performing is the career for her.
“What really helped me was knowing that, to be an artist, it’s not just because someone says yes or someone tells you you’re good. It’s about the process; it’s about the love for it. If you love your art, then you’re on the right path.”
In fact, her process to get on the show “Anne with an E” took time. Dana had auditioned many times for the show and was told no, then got a call to audition and didn’t think much of it because she heard no “so many times.”
She got a callback, and had to do many other auditions which she called “an audition marathon” and wasn’t sure if she was going to get through.
“When I got the job, I got the call, I was over the moon. I was like, “What? This is amazing.” Anne with an E was in a really incredible storyline that touched on the residential school system, and it was really portrayed in an honest way, and it was a really amazing experience,” said Dana.
When performing, community inspires her and “seeing our people” reclaim language and culture, but also inspired by those that came before her and paved the way to where she is today.
“I feel like when I see actors on TV, like Michael Greyeyes, I say, ‘Whoa,’ I get so excited, I’m like that’s so inspiring and if he could do it, maybe I can do it,” said Dana.
“It’s like seeing people paving the way and then also knowing that maybe my journey is paving the way for others.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.