YouTube star choreographs a career blending Bollywood and business
Shereen Ladha says her MBA helps give her the marketing and branding savvy to make her artistic side flourish
This story is the 14th in a series that features students and graduates who are using their business degrees in non-traditional fields.
Shereen Ladha was working in an advertising and marketing agency in Toronto a couple of years ago while balancing a blossoming side career producing and dancing in Bollywood-inspired videos that she posts on YouTube.
Justin Bieber's song Sorry had rocketed to No. 1 on the charts at the time, and Ms. Ladha had an idea to infuse some of her Indian culture into a remix of the song and make a dance video of it. So she booked a studio and a crew of dancers, but then a deadline came up at work, demanding her attention. She had to scramble to get the work done, then rush to the studio an hour away and roll the cameras.
"That was definitely a point for me where I was wondering if I could actually do this," the 30-year-old Toronto-based dancer, choreographer and instructor says.
The video not only got finished but it was also picked up by media outlets around the world, including BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and CTV News. The viral video now has almost one million views and it's not even the most-viewed video on her dancewithSL YouTube channel.
This sort of balancing act has become business as usual for Ms. Ladha. Through experience and education, she has figured out how to excel in both the artistic and corporate worlds.
The most recent addition to her education is an MBA from York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. The degree and her specialization in marketing and strategy have not only given her dance career a business foundation but it has also helped her land a new office job – she's now a senior strategist with McCann Canada in Toronto, a role she started in January.
While doing her undergrad in business at McGill University in Montreal, she kept her dance life and her school life separate, thinking people would find the mix unprofessional or confusing.
"Through my MBA, I decided that this was the thing that made me unique and it was proof I could bring a creative aspect to strategy and consulting – the thing I do now," she says.
"It started getting woven into my daily life and daily conversations I would have with people. All my social media accounts were public, so if they ever looked me up or were friends with me, they'd know about it. There was such a positive response."
, who started dancing at 4, is trained in Bollywood, classical Indian and hip hop, among other dance forms. She was a participant on the TV program
in 2012 as part of a dance troupe while working as a market analyst at Nielsen Co. in Toronto. She began her MBA in 2013.
She says there were two key classes she took while at Schulich that have been beneficial to her career: one on social media and another on customer experience design.
The first course taught her how to use social media to tell a "story" to an audience rather than just for person-to-person communication.
And without the design course she may not be where she is today, she says. One class focused on personal branding, and one of her assignments was to design her own website.
"If it hadn't been for that one class I wouldn't have ever reconciled the two worlds that exist for me: the world of business and strategy and consulting, and my world of dance. If I wasn't forced to sit there and see this blank website, see who I am [and] put it on a page … I don't think I'd be able to find the balance between the two."
Taking her MBA, she was able to apply learning to real-life situations and understand the theories better.
"I always knew I wanted to do a masters, and I think the MBA would always help me get that strategic thinking, and fill that gap I was missing to be able to be in a purely strategic role," she says.
Her art isn't limited solely to YouTube. She has appeared in Hollywood and Bollywood films, toured with Bollywood personalities, and has choreographed and performed in spectacles such as the 2015 Pan American Games opening ceremony in Toronto. Her latest venture is a cross-Canada dance tour, for which she has choreographed the routines and dances as well. She books the shows on weekends so she can tour and work at the same time.
The success of the Sorry remix, she says, has given her a more robust platform to have more people understand her as a person and artist.
"To hear news outlets all over the world talk about this video taking the world by storm and it bringing Bollywood to all these Canadian news outlets, it felt like I was accomplishing my mission – which was to showcase my art to the world, but also to teach people about my culture, which is what my art is rooted in," she says. "That's what I felt really good about."