Sunday 25 October, 2020

'Miss Jackie' makes massive donation to UCCI dance programme

Longtime instructor and a fixture in the Cayman dance community, Jackie Balls, affectionately known as Miss Jackie, is donating many of the costumes and much of the equipment from her dance school to the University College of the Cayman Islands’ dance programme.

Balls is retiring and closing Miss Jackie’s Dance School after a run of 48 years. She plans to bequeath much of her inventory to MoniKa Lawrence, UCCI’s director for the performing arts. The two women have been friends since Lawrence began taking lessons from and doing choreography for Balls about six years ago.

“She is phenomenal,” Lawrence said of Balls. “She has a wealth of knowledge that surpasses anyone that I know. I’ve found being around her to be extremely inspirational.”

The donation, Lawrence said, will “complete our space.”

Currently, the school’s dance studio, located on the second floor of Sir Vassel Johnson Hall, only has a few mirrors and no barres for the dance students. Balls is donating both mirrors and barres to UCCI. “All students will have space and be able to see themselves,” Lawrence said, a critical element in teaching and training dancers.

She said she is grateful that Balls chose UCCI as the recipient of the school’s equipment as well as Balls’ choreography work. Balls estimated the donation at $10,000.

“I’ve been keeping track of what they do and their love of dance,” Balls said of the programme’s dancers. “I thought they could really use this.”

Lawrence said she was humbled by the gesture.

“It really is an honour when somebody does that,” Lawrence said. “There are so many other places she could have given it to.”

UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee said having the equipment will be a boon for UCCI’s dance programme. The donation, she said, is an expression of the ties the university has forged with the community and will allow the performing arts at UCCI to enrich the lived-experience for community members.

“Dr Lawrence and her dancers have become a crucial part of Cayman’s art scene,” McAfee said. “They have performed at important events and venues here on the island as well as abroad, representing UCCI and what we have to offer. The performing arts enrich the student experience and provide rich experiential learning opportunities for students locally and internationally.

“Her relationship with Miss Jackie and Miss Jackie’s school is an important part of that,” she added. “For us to be the recipients of Miss Jackie’s legacy is a special honour. Along with that honour comes the responsibility to put her gift to good use and to reach a new generation of dancers.”

Lawrence said Balls has been involved with UCCI’s dance progamme for some time. She has provided scholarships for students throughout Cayman, including some who could not afford the fees to take classes at UCCI. She has also provided dance lessons on Saturdays for UCCI students, primarily in Ballset, but also in kick-line dancing.

Those students are part of a long line of dancers that Balls as worked with over the years. She opened her school shortly after she and her husband, who works in the banking industry, came to Cayman in 1972.

“Friends heard I used to dance,” she said. “They were pestering me to open a school.”

Apart from short breaks when her son was born and when the family briefly moved to England, the school has been in operation ever since. For much of that time, she found space on the St. Ignatius School campus.

 

“I was there for 22 years before I opened my studio in Pasadora Place,” she said.

She taught all ages of dancers, from little kids to adults. That’s how she met Lawrence, who came to UCCI 10 years ago and began taking classes from Balls four years later.

“I’ve grown to love her,” Balls said of Lawrence. “She comes from the same ‘old school’ background that I do.”

She said she wants to see the UCCI programme continue.

“I wanted, in some way, to keep the interest alive with the senior dancers,” she said. “UCCI students have a passion to want to learn. I’ve really enjoyed teaching them. I’m hoping to keep my hand in and give some master classes.”

Lawrence said she would love to see Balls’ influence continue to have an impact.

“The whole idea of the arts is passing it on,” she said. “It’s not something you keep to yourself. You want to see it illuminated in others.”

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