Just what Kenya was looking for

  • Sakata Season 3, Episode 4 Pro

  • Joanne Ball Burgess on the set of ‘Sakata’, a Kenyan dance competition television programme.

    Joanne Ball Burgess on the set of ‘Sakata’, a Kenyan dance competition television programme.

  • Joanne Ball Burgess second from the right working as a judge on the set of ‘Sakata’.

    Joanne Ball Burgess second from the right working as a judge on the set of ‘Sakata’.

  • Dance competitors on ‘Sakata’, a Kenyan dance competition television programme.

    Dance competitors on ‘Sakata’, a Kenyan dance competition television programme.


When Joanne Ball Burgess moved to Kenya a year ago, she never imagined she’d become a television star in that country.

Mrs Burgess is the author of ‘The Lizard and the Rock’ and was education officer at the Bermuda National (BNG) before moving to Nairobi with her husband Quincy and two sons.

Mrs Burgess was working as a creative arts teacher when she was spotted as possible talent for a show on Citizen Television, the largest station in Kenya.

“Most people in Bermuda have come to know me as a children’s author but I also dance,” she said. “At the end of August I accepted a contract to be a judge on ‘Sakata’, the Kenyan version of ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’.

“Sakata means ‘dance’ in Swahili. The show is broadcast throughout East and West Africa and can be viewed via live stream by those outside of those regions.”

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

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 technique.

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.

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

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

Mrs Burgess’ adventure with ‘Sakata’ began when a dancer friend asked her to go with her to a talent agent in Nairobi to have her pictures taken.

“When we arrived we met a swarm of tall teenage girls with long weaves and tons of make-up,” Mrs Burgess said. “At 5ft 2” and aged 31 I began to feel out of place really quickly.

“When we were finally called in the manager asked me if I was there for a photo shoot which of course I wasn’t.”

She declined to have her picture taken and they left soon afterwards. Months passed and she received a phone call from the agency asking her to reconsider.

“I do not subscribe to female objectification and would have declined again except that Quincy nudged me a bit and said, ‘Just try it. You may find it fun’,” Mrs Burgess said. “So I did the shoot and it actually was fun. They also asked me to do a couple of fun dance poses in the process.”

Several months later she received a call saying that the producer of ‘Sakata’ was looking for a new female judge and had seen her photos from the agency.

Three days later she met with the producer and was sent a contract.

“A week later we began filming the third season of ‘Sakata’,” she said.

‘Sakata’s’ Facebook page has 32,000 likes, which is significant given that a smaller percentage of the Kenyan population has internet access than Bermuda.

“I am enjoying it and learning to understand the Kenyan culture in new ways,” Mrs Burgess said. “I began taking traditional dance classes seven months ago.

“One element of Kenyan culture that is evident in the competition is that Kenyans are very polite as a people.

“If you ask a question they will tell you the version of what you want to hear. So during the last two seasons of the show this was evident.

“I was hired as the ‘non-Kenyan but looks Kenyan’ judge who could tell it like it is.

“That has led to lots of attacks on Facebook as well as lots of ‘what I want to hear’ on the streets.”

There isn’t always a clear winner in the competition, she said.

“There is no international standard for judging dance competitions, but there are certain specifics that judges look for like stage presence, showmanship, technique and intelligent choreography, but it is subjective to each judge,” she said.

“Another thing that is unique to ‘Sakata’ is that when we see the dances on set, it is the first time that we have seen them. So the experience is dynamic and explosive.”

Mrs Burgess said sometimes judging is hard because almost every dance group on the show has overcome difficulty and has a moving story.

Some dancers dropped out of school, others grew up in orphanages together, some groups travel overnight from faraway villages and come straight to the production to dance and others are trying to make it through college while fitting their dance practice in between.

“They see ‘Sakata’ as their ticket to exposure and fame,” said Mrs Burgess. “The level of talent varies greatly. In round one, the majority of the groups were average to below average dancers.

“Now in round three, the remaining groups are average to professional dancers and the competition is intense.”

In addition to her television appearances and teaching, Mrs Burgess is still writing.

She produces a monthly article for ArtLife magazine. She has also facilitated proposal writing workshops for mobile tech entrepreneurs who were fresh out of college and wanted to know how to pitch their ideas to local businesses.

“That actually started the ball rolling, because I appeared on the Kenyan business reality show called ‘The Magnate’,” she said.

“A year ago 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 that I had not yet dreamed would be awakened.

“The only thing that I was certain of was that the season for being in Bermuda was closing.

“There are many people in Bermuda who are qualified, experienced and gifted but they are frustrated in their Island home.

“If they travelled to another part of the world they might actually find that they are exactly what the rest of the world has been waiting for. “

Useful website: www.ballburgessadventures.blogspot.com/

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Published Nov 6, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 5, 2012 at 6:19 pm)

Just what Kenya was looking for

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