Dancing in Papua New Guinea
Some people like to map out their careers down to the smallest detail, but Joanne Ball Burgess takes a different approach.
“I follow my heart,” said the dancer, author and choreographer.
Ten years ago, her heart led her to Nairobi, Kenya where she became a celebrity judge on Sakata Mashariki, a show similar to Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.
Those same skills have taken her to Papua New Guinea where she is the director of dance and education for the Active City Development Programme in Port Moresby.
The capital city is coastal like Hamilton but a lot less developed – and with 364,145 citizens.
“ACDP works with marginalised youth in Port Moresby,” Ms Ball Burgess said. “Many of them have not succeeded in school, but might be fantastic kinaesthetically.”
Students have access to classes in yoga, kickboxing, acrobatics, circus skills and dance – and get the opportunity to perform and get paid.
The catch is that the 17 to 25 year olds have to stay away from drugs and violence and cannot be disrespectful.
Some are illiterate or have limited literacy skills.
“A lot of people live in a house with extended family members,” Ms Ball Burgess said. “So some of their challenges are about how they follow their passions when the rest of the family say they should just stay home and help us around the house.”
Women, in particular, face a high level of family and social pressures.
Ms Ball Burgess was at a meeting of The Theatre Company of Kenya four years ago when another board member, Fazilah Bazari, told her of the group she’d founded.
“Once again, my heart jumped,” she said. “Ms Bazari said it would fit all the things I did with dance and writing. It looked very exciting.”
Early last year Ms Bazari watched as Ms Ball Burgess led classes at the Lamu Yoga Dance Festival in Kenya.
The couple talked about Ms Ball Burgess possibly moving to Port Moresby to work but a few weeks later the pandemic happened.
Focused on other things Ms Ball Burgess put the plan aside until she got an e-mail from Ms Bazari last September. In April she left her husband, Quincy Burgess, and three sons in Nairobi and travelled to the southwestern Pacific. Her hope is that her family will soon join her.
Port Moresby is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world because of high unemployment and violent crime. Ms Ball Burgess said she is “living [her] life”, while taking precautions.
Her car has tinted windows so people cannot tell a woman is driving. She also avoids certain roads at night.
What she loves about the job is that allows her to put her education and her dance and writing abilities to work.
“That is fantastic,” she said. “Oftentimes in a job, it would be only be of those that would be used.”
She said ACDP’s events go beyond simply entertainment value.
“They are purposed to support city residents through health, wellness, increased micro-economy opportunities and the like as well as to assist in changing mindsets through the use of the arts,” she said. “Another task is to allow these events to continue to foster a sense of unity in the city.
“I write the proposals, programmes, master of ceremony scripts and follow-up reports for these events. Along with a supportive team and divisions within [the city governing body] we see that these events happen smoothly and successfully.”
She has set into motion a number of initiatives in the past four months.
“I am teaching yoga dance fusion specifically to the yoga teachers in the programme so they have another skill to offer,” she said. “We are also about to implement training for yoga teachers and performers that includes customer service, budgeting and mobile banking.”
The children’s author released her first book for adults, Dancing with Tired Feet, in June.
She is now planning a literacy programme for young children in Port Moresby.
In June, Joanne Ball Burgess released her first book for adults.
Called Dancing with Tired Feet, it’s divided into four stories. One details her experience in the Westgate Shopping Mall Attack in Nairobi on September 21, 2013.
Ms Ball Burgess, a Bermudian living in the Kenyan capital at the time, was in the upscale plaza when it was attacked by four masked gunmen.
She hid in a bathroom and later a broom closet, for several terrifying hours before making a dash for freedom.
Seventy-one people died and 200 were wounded in the mass shooting.
“It is the first time I have written about my experiences with that,” said Ms Ball Burgess who is also the author of two children’s books – Lizard on the Rock and Priceless Hogg Penny.
“It has been a labour of love for several years,” she said of her new book.
Dancing with Tired Feet is available on kindle.com. Hard copies will be released in February.
“We are predicting it will be a best seller,” Ms Ball Burgess said.