Dance critic Judge Joanne: 'I will find any reason to dance' - Evewoman

Achieving Woman

Dance critic Judge Joanne: 'I will find any reason to dance'


joanne ball-burgess
Joanne has a deep passion for dancing

She always felt like she was flying while dancing, like she was free while singing and like she was able to go into another world while writing.

The difference now, as she says, is that she is able to share those moments with the world.

That's Joanne Ball-Burgess for you, or rather Jo-1, as others like to call her.

She is a warm and charming woman who sincerely wants to uplift others with her numerous talents.

"I'm a dreamer. I think big and love much. I have loads of energy and love to laugh. I can be easy-going but incompetence and ignorance drives me crazy," says Joanne.

Joanne says she never envisioned being a dancer, singer and writer. Rather, it was what came naturally and nourished her.

"I started singing at the age of seven in church. I was a shy child back then. I also loved to dance but didn't start performing until my teens, mostly again because of shyness," she says.

She started dancing as a teenager, eventually studying ballet, modern dance and afro-fusion.

"In my opinion, dance is a tool for social change as well as an aesthetic sweetness that makes life more colourful," she says.

Born and raised in the beautiful island of Bermuda, she says her parents named her Joanne Ball because they saw a strong woman in her.

"My mother told me that when she named me, she envisioned a strong woman and that's what I've become. My husband's name is Burgess. Ball-Burgess combines both names, which shows that my family history is equally valued in my marriage," she says.

According to her, life growing up in Bermuda is similar to that of a person who has grown up next to the beach in Mombasa.

"I got used to living near the beach and seeing hibiscus flowers every day. During the summer, we swam a lot, fished often and climbed trees for loquats and Surinam cherries. We made lizard traps for catching lizards. I have a younger brother who is four years younger than I," she says.

After her schooling in Bermuda, she began teaching creative arts.

In 2004, she taught creative dance and movement workshops in Egypt for Orthodox women who wanted a safe place to freely express themselves through dance while learning new techniques.

She also taught dance in Cyprus for Sudanese refuges who felt displaced in a new society but were trying to create new realities for their families.

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In 2011, Joan moved to Kenya with her family. She never imagined that she would later become a star. Back in Bermuda, she had been working as an education officer at the Bermuda National Gallery (BNG).

The family decided to move to Kenya after Mr Burgess visited the country to teach bee culture workshops and fell in love with it.

"When we moved to Kenya, I had no idea what to expect. As we packed our bags for the airport, I hoped that Kenya would be a place where the dreams I had not yet dreamed would be awakened," she says.

And her dreams were awakened when she joined a popular dance show programme that airs on one of the local channels.

She was working as a creative arts teacher when she was spotted as possible talent for the show, which even earned her the title the 'mean' judge. She is known for her honest comments and desire to see the dance crews improve in their technique.

She offers: "My experience on the show for the three seasons was amazing on most occasions, and also stressful on others. The harder part was when there are two dance crews who are just about identical in skill and their scores may be a one point difference and one has to go home. Those episodes were always tough since no matter the fact that there were three judges including myself, fans and crews tend to think that 'I' sent them home not recognising that it is the combined score that makes up the total."

According to her, people often mistake honesty and constructive criticism as being 'mean'.

"Before I came onto the show, the dance crews were used to hearing only the things that they did well during their performances. Most had never considered that there was anything that they needed to improve on."

Besides dancing, writing is also her other love. So far,  she has published four books.

"My experience as an author has been varied. My first title, The Lizard and the Rock was a quick success in Bermuda and for visitors visiting the island. In one year from 2008-2009 I became a sort of celebrity," says Joanne.

She notes: "From the success of my first book I decided to do a CD soundtrack with all of the songs themed with the book."

She then wrote and published her second book in the series 'The Priceless Hogg Penny', in 2009, which is a fable about generosity.

"It was at that time that the recession hit Bermuda hard so unlike the first book, which sold out quickly, stores were reluctant to take it up because more and more Bermudians were struggling to put food on the table. You cannot ask someone to buy books if they are hungry for food," she laments.

As if fate would have it, around that time she was invited to the Arkansas Literary Festival as a guest author where she presented her titles and did workshops with college and middle school students at various colleges and schools in the Arkansas area.

From there, she continued to write magazine articles, did some editing, research writing and proposal writing for various clients.

In 2013, the Can Do Publishing Company expressed an interest in publishing her first title 'The Lizard and the Rock' as an e-book. It took her about a year to re-work the story into a more global story as well as collaborating with a new illustrator for new images. The e-book version was released in Bermuda in May 2014, and then in Nairobi at Storymoja.

According to Joanne, many people don't know that she had a very devastating school experience while growing up.

"I went to a small independent Christian school in Bermuda for my primary schooling, which religiously and physically abused the kids. Although I wasn't physically abused, the use of religion to induce fear and obedience is a vivid memory in my childhood," she says. "When I began to question the teachers about their practices, I was kicked out of school. There was a special woman who invited me to join her home-school. This was a time of healing. I regained my self-esteem in my ability to do my school work."

"At the encouragement of a good friend, I began to write about my experience in memoir form titled "An Underworld Education", which was published in an e-book anthology 'Take This Journey With Me'. It was around that time that the Bermuda government sent out a call for memoir submissions for their upcoming anthology of memoir and fiction," she lets out.

According to Joanne, she has endured both good and bad moments in her life, and her optimism, forever her strongest point, is what has cultured her into what she is now.

She says: "One of the worst moments of my career was fighting back tears while judging the finale episode of the dance show. It had only been a week since the terror attack at Westgate had happened where I was hiding in the bathroom for more than four hours. During that week, I couldn't sleep. Most of the time I would feel dizzy during the day and I couldn't hold much of my food down. I didn't want to be around a large crowd but it just so happened that the finale filming date was already set. I was fragile and wanted to be at home but I still had a job to do and a role to play on the show. I got through it somehow."

Joanne, as she says, has always been driven by dreams, ideas, passion, inspiring conversations and the ability to see a challenge that no one else is trying to solve.

"No matter the circumstance, it is always good to walk with your head held high, choose friends who think differently than you do so that you can learn to appreciate different life perspectives and allow simple things in life to make you smile," she says.

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