Female collaboration in the Kenyan dance industry

In a culture that thrives on drama among females, it’s no wonder little attention goes to collaborations done by women. Renee Karanja is the only person who has danced with me through several life stages: pregnancy (6-9 months) nursing and post nursing and that’s forged a lasting friendship. There’s even a choreography we did together three days before I gave birth to my last born child!

The dance scene in Kenya needs to be united, especially so among women. It’s easy to celebrate men and the mainly male dominated dance crews but when it comes to women, people tend to be more focused on ‘how much of a women they are’ or ‘what’s going on in their personal life’ which takes away from the skills of the female dancer. There needs to be a change in the narrative, and women to reach out to one another and create great works of art.

Renee and I are choreographers and performers, and just like me, Renee’s craft is not limited to dance. As a body builder, she’s gotten a lot of heat for photos she posted on her social media channels showing off her muscles. I don’t care to repeat what was said, but people can be pretty hateful.

A lot has been said about me as well, but I hope that people will deflate their egos long enough to find ways to make meaningful collaborations and place Kenya on the global dance stage now that Sakata Mashariki ended last year.

Here’s a video of our latest project.

If you’re interested in collaborating, contact Jo1 via Instagram.






Let’s talk breastfeeding…


The full picture

We always see photos of women breastfeeding on Instagram or Facebook. The woman is always looking down at her baby smiling or with an intense knowing gaze towards her infant. The woman’s body often looks toned or somewhat presentable even if the woman does not represent the typical “acceptable” body. When we observe family members or people, we know breastfeeding- it always looks easy like that’s what we are ‘supposed’ to do.

I don’t think social media would show a bloody nipple or a video when a mother has run out of milk and the baby is screaming beyond consolation. I don’t think that social media would show the utter exhaustion that a mother feels after nursing compared to before nursing. Yes, it’s natural to breastfeed if a mother chooses to do so, but the demand on the body is rarely discussed nor how to give a nursing mother more emotional and supplemental support during those times.

On being a career mum

As a dancer and fitness person one of the main challenges has been to learn to be patient with myself as I am healing and getting back into shape. Also slowing down and knowing that my first priority is to my children. This may mean taking on more clients and opportunities in order to provide for them or taking on less in order to physically and emotionally be there for them. It’s a tough balancing act that sometimes I hit and other times I miss.

Hard times during nursing and their remedies 

Nursing for me is more difficult than being pregnant. The baby pulls on my strength and energy in a way that goes beyond being pregnant.

I’ve found that diet plays a huge role in my energy and health especially when nursing.

Eating foods packed with calories that are nutritious and full of antioxidants rather than foods with empty calories. Basically any food that’s white is an empty calorie food. Also increasing the amount of moringa and baobab power that I consumed in a day and adding things like spirulina, turmeric, matcha and macca to my diet.  Taking herbs to help nourish the adrenal glands such as rhodiola during the day since the adrenal glands really get worked during and after giving birth. Eating a lot of meals and healthy snacks during the day. Not working out too much. This one is a kicker because we want to get back to our shape but over exercising will cause the milk supply to drop.

Craziest advice ever received

“Let the baby cry. It’s good for the lungs.” Babies can only communicate their needs through crying since they can’t talk. Letting a baby cry just for the sake of crying is ignoring a need that it has.

Lessons I picked up while nursing my three boys

Even if you want to nurse, the main thing is to give your children a healthy mother. Do things that cause you to be healthy in mind, body and spirit. Whether you need to see a therapist, eat your favourite chocolate (dark chocolate preferably) or stop nursing for medical reasons. Do it without guilt or judgment because the main thing is to be a mother and the best one that you can be in that moment. Period.

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Have a Happy Boxing Day everyone! #Love

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My advise to a soon-to-be mum

Eat a lot and don’t apologize for it. Drink lots of water. Keep taking your prenatal vitamin while you are nursing plus fish oils or flax oils as well as the other items I’ve mentioned above.  Practice yoga and get out into the fresh air. If you can, spend an hour away from the baby everyday doing something that nourishes you whether sleeping, reading, walking or whatever.

Men, this one is for you

The best thing that you can do is to be a support. Change the diapers. Offer to take the baby on your own so that the mother can rest and refresh herself. Understand that after having a baby the hormones are all over the place and anxiety is high. Be patient with her when she snaps at you or starts crying for no apparent reason.

Buy her things like nice soaps and comfy pyjamas. Arrange for a date night without the baby and take her to the salon before the date. Ask her if she would like to go out shopping with her girlfriends to buy clothes that fit. It is so frustrating for a woman who’s just had a baby trying to find something to wear and the man says, “But you have so many clothes in the closet.” Yes she has pre-pregnancy clothes, maternity wear and sweatpants.  None of those fit her properly just after having a kid.

Tell her that she is beautiful and learn to view her new body as the body that has given you a child. With all of its marks and scars this woman has given you the most precious gift ever.

Joanne is a dancer, yogi and fitness trainer. If you are interested in being trained by her please reach out to her on Instagram.

Three Years Later…

Hours later I would find myself hiding in a bathroom stall for 4 hours along with several other people, wondering whether or not this was the end of my life.

Three years ago today I woke up ready to practice yoga and take part in my afternoon jazz dance class. It was an exciting day. I was invited to the set of a television show to make a guest celebrity appearance.

Hours later I would find myself hiding in a bathroom stall for 4 hours along with several other people, wondering whether or not this was the end of my life. All of the points of those hours in Westgate have been recounted again and again in numerous interviews. One can google them if they like. Some items that did not make it into the interviews that I think of every now and again that I’d like to share here:

1. Being close to death didn’t make me nicer

As I walked into Westgate the female askari (guard) checked my bags and waved her [magic] wand over my head. I’ve always felt this to be a useless exercise for a number of reasons and rolled my eyes as this weak display of a security attempt took place.

Later on, while gunshots hailed outside the bathroom door, I heard painful wailing in the stall next to me. As I peered over the stall I recognized this same askari holding her wand over her head while crouching and shuddering. “How is it that you were outside checking my bags with that wand and now here you are crouching and crying like a baby? You couldn’t help anyone with that thing!” I shouted over the bathroom stall while standing on top of the toilet. I was there because I was trying to see if I could crawl up into the bathroom ceiling to hide in case the terrorists came into the bathroom shooting. Nevertheless, I wasn’t nicer than usual in this situation.

As I peered over the bathroom stall I recognized the same askari holding her wand over her head while crouching and wailing loudly.

2. My children gave me inspiration
Crouching in a bathroom for four hours listening to raining bullets gives someone a lot of time to think. My thoughts swayed back and forth between huge courageous to thoughts of hopelessness. What gave me the energy to know that I had to survive was my children. The thought of not being around to raise my children or someone else raising my children was not a good picture in my head. I knew that I had to get out of there somehow, for them. This was three years ago. I had no idea at that point that I would have another child who grasps for every moment in life like a magical moment. When I was envisioning my children to be able to get out of Westgate I had no idea that if I made it out, another little one would come into our family. Rainn is our miracle baby for more than one reason.

3. Interviews are a great distraction from trauma healing
My father is Bermudian and my mother is Canadian. I was born and raised in Bermuda and would visit my Canadian family every year. My Canadian heritage hails all the way back from freed enslaved Blacks who fought with the British, against the war for Independence and were given land in Canada as a reward.

Where they were given land was right on the doorstep of three First Nation Tribes. Needless to say, my family history is colourful. Literally.

So when the attack happened, Bermudian and Canadian newspapers wanted interviews from me. For about a week and a half, I recounted my ordeal like a well-rehearsed play. Each time feeling more and more detached from the actual happenings.

Then suddenly, everything came to a crashing halt. There were no more interviews. Other happenings in the world took precedence over those of us who had survived Westgate. It was time to face the reality of what really happened, which meant time for self-care and self-healing. It was time to remove the distractions so that I could begin to truly live again.

And so my life continues…and other perils of being a mom, teacher and performer

“It was because of his interest that we decided to include a drone in the music video project”

Until I got pregnant most of my fans didn’t know I had kids let alone was married. My life as dancer/dance judge/mom/principal/author/singer were separated neatly into their own life segments-never the six should meet. Each life segment had its own character that took on a life of its own.

For instance, once my family and I were out at a restaurant where there was live entertainment. The main singer asked me if I wanted to perform. I hesitated and started making excuses as to why I couldn’t. Hubby quickly quirked; “She gets shy sometimes but just push her.” There was a moment of silence where the singer looked at me oddly, a bit confused and then walked away. “She doesn’t know what you’re talking about, ” I said. “She knows Judge Joanne. Judge Joanne is never shy.” And so life continued.

“She knows Judge Joanne. Judge Joanne is never shy.”

Until more recently I discovered that all the unique parts of me could combine into something special if I let it happen naturally. It was around that time that I had started going back to the studio to record. Of course with the baby it was a whole event-baby food, diapers, changes of clothes, toys, blankets etc. all the way to Embakasi. Every so often we’d pause the session so that I could nurse. And so life continued.


My second son, Zahari is 9. He’s kind of a Science genius. At the moment he’s into studying drones. It was because of his interest that we decided to include a drone in the music video project for “Don’t Disturb My Dance”. On the day of the shoot, he was elated when he saw the guy with the drone show up. “It’s a Phantom 2 DJI! He shouted. He’s not a dancer but his input spanned way before the day of the shoot. The hours of looking for the correct drone, researching drone shots online and how long they could remain in the air during the shoot were his input and research. This intrigued him for hours.

Yeshai, the 10-year-old, has lately taken an interest in dance. One day I saw him dancing during his weekly hip hop class and said, “Your dancing looks boring. If you want to dance, dance but if you’re going to do it halfway then do something else, like accounting (Judge Jo-1 style)”. Some parents may say that I was mean, but it seemed like from that day the lights came on and he started dancing with passion.

“Your dancing looks boring. If you want to dance, dance but if you’re going to do it halfway then do something else…”

So it was no surprise when he wanted to come along for our dance practices in preparation for the music video. He practiced with us and learned may of the choreography parts. You can see him dancing freely on the music video in his school shirt. We had been up since 4:00am. It was now 10:30am and the family had arrived to join me on the set of “Don’t Disturb My Dance.” Once they arrived the baby wanted to nurse. I’ve dubbed myself “the milk lady” since that’s how Rainn looks at me whenever he sees me. So on set, I was moving between performer to to dancer to mom. And once several of our school students arrived I also became Ms. BB (what the students call me). I felt a wave of exhaustion coming over me and I knew that we still had a long day ahead.


One of my parents told me that when they were trying to locate us in the taxi they told the taxi driver that they were looking for their principal. One of the kids spotted us a few meters down the street dancing to, “I don’t care what they say about me. If you don’t care what they say about you…” I’m told that the taxi driver kept driving saying, “No that can’t be the principal.” And so my life continues.

Before the music video, my kids asked me questions like, “Why can’t you just record the song on your phone and post it onto YouTube? Why does it have to take so long?” Well, they got to see the editing process firsthand and even spoke with the editors about what they were doing in real time.

Is my life nuts sometimes? You have no idea. And pretty awesome too. And I’m happy to make moments like these learning moments for my children. Because learning in real time is always the best time.


Check the video out here >

Letting Go of Our Egos to be Great Dancers

Happy ‪#‎InternationalYogaDay‬ everyone! I cannot stress enough how much every ‪#‎dancer‬ should regularly practice yoga. It was yoga that supported my path to healing after a surgery that caused me to question whether or not I would dance again. Especially here in Kenya where many dancers do not have access to health insurance, ‪#‎yoga‬ can gently support healing for many injuries.

Many ‪#‎dancers‬ in ‪#‎Nairobi‬ don’t like to attend other dancer’s workshops. So the non-dancers and aspiring dancers enjoy the workshops while the “professional” dancers with huge egos complain about why the dance industry isn’t rising in the way other arts industries are rising. Well, in every profession there is professional development. You wouldn’t trust a computer engineer who graduated from college in 1985 and never bothered to get professional development after that.

Dancers in Nairobi can be like those engineers who graduated in 1985 sometimes. And for those of you who disagree and are giving away your services for free, you are helping to destroy this industry for the sake of Instagram likes. But I digress.

In order for us as dancers to become all that we need to be we must be able to put our egos down once in a while. Today, find a #yoga class and let’s use this practice to begin physical,emotional and artistic healing. Our‪#‎creativity‬ will flourish, our minds will be clearer, we will be able to work together ‪#‎unified‬ easier. Because when we come from a place of nothingness, we are able to be filled up with everything good that we were designed to be.

With Love and Dance,
~Judge Jo1


So it’s been six months since I gave birth to Rainn. I decided to go back to the place where I did my pregnancy photo shoot at 8 1/2 months. No, I’ve never been on a diet, and I eat tons of chocolate. I’ve learned so many things about myself holistically since giving birth for the third time. Perhaps I’ll share those things sometime soon. For now, enjoy the view…😊
‪#‎6MonthsPostPartum‬ ‪#‎DancingMom‬ ‪#‎RecoveryPath‬


Judge Jo1: Wholistic Education For Wholistic Growth And Development

Education can be fun too! This is what I do when am not dancing. Though I end up dancing for the better part of it anyway!


Education in Kenya has come under a lot of questioning, most saying that the result does not help much in real life. The outside world is wild and requires so much of a student most of which is not covered in our system. Instead of the 8-4-4 system our country has adopted, most parents are now seeking alternative systems which may help their children lead better lives and be better and useful people in the society.

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My Postpartum Fitness Journey

There is still a long way to go but I am happy with my progress so far. Many people are asking me what I’m doing to lose the weight. Firstly, breastfeeding. It’s the best for baby and the best for me. I’ve realized that I need to eat more while nursing not less. If you try to diet while nursing you will either run out of milk or the body will hold onto excess weight to be able to make milk for the baby.

post partum

Secondly, doing light dancing and yoga while wearing an abdominal support to avoid injury. No crunches yet! My body is still healing from giving birth. Also my legs are still a bit wobbly so it’s all about taking extra self-care right now.

Thirdly, I’ve been seeing Dr. Ameet Aggarwal [ drameet.com ]who has been advising me on specific herbs and vitamins. This is not for losing weight but so that I can be at my best health while nursing and getting back to myself.

I am also avoiding gluten which helps my overall health. Many people may not know that they are sensitive to certain foods. Continuing to eat them causes inflation, weight gain and feeling down. So keep it healthy and the exercise gradual as we walk this journey together.

Dancing 6 Weeks After Giving Birth

You have to be brave, when you realize your legs have lost the strength from before the ‪#‎pregnancy‬. To ‪#‎dance‬ while your back is still sore from nursing and carrying a baby around. You have to be brave, to choose to move when the wound in your abdomen is still recognizable and your body is just plain tired from waking up all through the night to care for a newborn.


Some people chose never to #dance again. I understand that. It is scary to try again. But 6 weeks later I am trying. And I am happy to dance into the unknown with this instrument I call, my body. Be brave. Dancing with Bboy Harry to Ellie Goulding’s Burn. Enjoy!!