Finding strength in calling: Dolapo Philips is balancing life to perfection 

In a time when society’s standards continue pushing women in different directions, Dolapo Philips is living proof that societal standards are just an option. 

Dolapo Phillips has created a long-lasting legacy as a physical trainer, martial artist, and professional theatre performer from London to Japan and back to Nigeria. Counting every day as a blessing to be alive, Dolapo, or Dolly, as I like to call her, is a woman with no limits to her poise and perseverance.

Nestled in her cosy studio office at Alpha Fitness Studios, still buzzing with that post-workout glow from her Wednesday morning session, Dolly shared her life’s raw and authentic story. From love and self-discovery to embracing her roles as a woman, a mother, and a fitness coach, she opened up about the journey to find her true calling.

From Birmingham to Japan

Dolapo’s journey took her from being a trained engineer at Birmingham University to helping her mom kickstart a plastic packaging company back home in Nigeria. But the unexpected twist of joining a salsa class by the gym’s pool truly made her feel at home. From her first class to her hundredth, leading up to dazzling stage performances, she found her calling in the rhythm of salsa without even realising it.

“I was called for an audition for a show created for my personality. I got it because it fit my personality so well. One performance became thousands of performances.  So I fell into it,” Dolly reminisced. “When I moved back to Nigeria, I told my mum, ‘I give you ten years’ before I look for my passion and dream. I found my passion even before the end of the decade and worked with her while performing. At the end of the ten years, I told her, ‘Mum, I love you, but I have to follow my dream,’ that’s how I fell into performing arts and dancing. It wasn’t planned.”

“Then I thought, ‘For fun, let’s do Japanese,’ and I fell in love with it.’

While at Birmingham University, Dolapo realised she needed to complement her engineering studies with a language. With few options, she somewhat reluctantly picked Japanese. To her surprise, she quickly fell in love with both the language and the culture, fascinated by their unexpected resemblances to Yoruba culture and folklore. This newfound passion, coupled with her adventurous spirit, made the idea of visiting Japan irresistible. So, right after completing her master’s, she boldly applied for an English teaching position in Japan—and got it.

At Yokkaichi, Mie Ken, Japan, Dolapo’s experience continues to be a highlight of her youth. While she was the only black person in the small town, everyone was receptive and accepting of her. “I did not experience racism even once,” she recalled. “It was more of curiosity and fascination that I, a foreign person, could speak their language and live in their country.”

Experiencing Japan remains a highlight of Dolly’s story. The people’s beautiful scenery and distinctive culture continue to enthral Dolly, and she describes her time there as “being in heaven.” Being young then, Dolly wasn’t aware that life had much more in store for her, but it was home in Nigeria.

Finding love in Nigeria

“On that first date, he said to me, ‘You’re going to be my wife.’ in my mind, I said, ‘Oh, please, he’s just one of those guys.”

Heartbreak is something many of us go through, but finding your future husband while out with friends trying to drink away the blues? That’s not something you hear every day. But that’s exactly how Dolly met the man she’s been married to for 16 years. Looking back at that first meeting, she recalls she wasn’t all that interested initially, but still, she gave him her number.

Dolly initially found it odd when he asked her out for ice cream instead of a drink, but she agreed. To her surprise, he confidently declared she would be his wife on their first date. Despite her scepticism, they are now married with two children, 16 years later. Reflecting on the unexpected turn of events, she believes it was part of God’s plan for her to return to Nigeria, where this all unfolded.

Finding love in motherhood

“Compared to when they were much younger, I didn’t know how to engage boys. So, I just focused on their academics and general well-being.”

Motherhood quickly showed Dolly that chasing perfection is a myth. Raising her two sons, Jason and Joshua, who are 14 and 11, has been a lesson-filled journey. She talks about them with much love, showcasing their deep bond: “With my older son, we are in those teenage years as he is soon to turn 15. It is difficult trying to get across, but we have our ways of communicating quite well.” She describes her younger son with a fond smile, saying,” He is very engaging; he’s very much like me— two extreme extroverts and Aries as well—we get each other.”

Contrary to the norm, Mrs. Phillips didn’t have an easy time figuring out the best way to communicate with her kids when they were little. She was great at setting boundaries and ensuring they were well taken care of, focusing on their health and education. However, having a partner who’s been hands-on and supportive for the past 16 years has made motherhood much smoother for Dolly.

“Motherhood is a blessing if I’m being honest,” Dolly says. “It truly is a blessing because we can’t raise our kids the way our parents raised us, so it’s a different time. We’re constantly growing, and children are exposed to so much information.

You can’t just throw things at them. You have to make them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, even though you are the authoritarian there.”

The teenage years are known for the difficulties they pose to parents and teenagers themselves. Still, despite being at loggerheads occasionally, Dolly’s adoration for Jason is striking—a clear manifestation of a mother’s love.

“Motherhood is really rewarding and a constant work in progress.”

“Sometimes he would sit in my room and watch me while I’m doing a workout, and I would ask,’ Jason, is something wrong?’ and he would say, ‘No, I just want to be around you’ immediately. I would try to keep quiet so I don’t lose the moment with him.”

“I started going to the gym at 11 years old with my father. This was shortly after he had a heart attack and was instructed to lose half his body weight.”

Fitness became an essential part of Dolly’s life when her father suffered a heart attack at the age of 38. They began working together to make lifestyle improvements, but little did she know this would set the tone for her future.

Dance, work, and gym sessions were staples in her daily life, making her the go-to person for fitness advice in her circle. Although friends and family nudged her towards making fitness her career, she was initially reluctant to pursue it. Yet, the thought of turning her passion into a profession kept nagging at her until she began leading dance classes on Saturdays, sprinkling in some fitness routines. Gradually, she warmed up to the idea and embraced her true calling as a fitness instructor.“I began focusing on fitness properly in 2012. Dancing and performing are a part of me, but with fitness, I wanted to go deeper into it, and that’s really how it started.”

Becoming a World Champion

“It was one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done, and I’m quite daring.”

In 2023, Dolapo won two bronze medals at the World Shotokan Karate Championships. Defying all odds and expectations people might have of a 43-year-old woman was not her intention at first, but with effort and determination, Dolly emerged victorious.

“I had to shake off the thought that I wouldn’t do well among all the amazing people there. I told myself, ‘Dolly, you’ve been doing this for a while, practising, and you’re ready.’ It was nerve-wracking, but I did it.”

This competition was a defining point for me at this point in my career. It helped me understand that I really can do anything at any point in my life. Achieving the bronze medal is very significant to me.”

A lot can be said about Dolapo Phillips. But from my experience, Dolly is a woman who is exemplarily true to herself and constantly looks to empower and uplift the women around her. Through her work at Alpha Fitness and overall demeanour, a quick conversation with Dolly will have you genuinely believe in yourself as much as she does in you. She is a true “energy giver,” if I say so myself.

Running a successful fitness studio, being an actor, a theatre performer, a dancer, a martial artist, a mother, and a wife are all on a list many can’t contend with. Still, somehow, Dolapo Philips is at the centre of everything. Juggling life, work, and family is a superpower that many women worldwide continue to possess. However, knowing her abilities and embracing her shortcomings have given Dolly all the strength she needs to perfect the balance. With firm faith in God and personal perseverance, Dolapo Philips is balancing life to perfection.


React to this post!
No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.