Having spent most of her life on the stage, professional dancer and performer Simone Burden (née Mann) recently stepped into what is sure to be her most demanding, most important and most rewarding role ever … she became a mother.
Simone (or Sisi as she’s known) has spent her entire life in Ballito. Well, almost. She has, of course, also spent a good many years travelling and performing on stages around the world.
As with most women, especially professional dancers and sportswomen, 33-year-old Sisi’s life has done a dramatic about-turn since she gave birth to her beautiful daughter, Daisy, just a few weeks ago. And Sisi and her husband, former Sharks rugby player Craig Burden, couldn’t be happier.
From a family of five, three of the Mann sisters have been deeply entrenched in the world of dance and showbiz. Their mother Michelle was a well-known Ballito dancer and gymnast and Sisi’s two sisters, Danielle and Dominique, have each achieved their own successes, with Danielle having also danced internationally and Dominique being a ten times SA aerobic gymnastics champion.
Although they all went their separate ways after school and Sisi and both her sisters have now settled back down in Ballito, with their folks just down the road. “I always knew I wanted to live in Ballito. I just feel so lucky that the town has grown and the North Coast has become such a bustling area. I’m not sure if it would’ve worked for us living here if it was still a small little village. We have the best of both worlds now.”
A dancer and gymnast throughout her schooling years, Sisi took a gap year after school to travel with the SA gymnastics team. Both she and Dominique were on the SA team but, Sisi says, gymnastics wasn’t her first love. “I enjoyed it, but I always felt like it was keeping me away from my true passions of dancing and being on stage.”
Sisi spent three years at the Cape Academy of Performing Arts and it was while she was there, she says, that she was given incredible opportunities to travel and perform internationally in places like Edinburgh and New York. “It was such an amazing experience and opened a lot of doors for me.”
Having seen her sister perform in Richard Loring’s remarkable African Footprints production, Sisi says it was her dream to do the same. “My sister was (and still is) my idol and I wanted to do what she did! It was the first professional show, outside of academy, that I auditioned for and got into.” Sisi spent over two years travelling with the cast, performing in China and France. It was during this time, she says, that she realised her true love was musical theatre. After a short stint in Show Boat in Paris Sisi returned home and joined the Playhouse full time as one of their resident dancers. A year later she joined the Kickstart team and got to work on incredible productions like Shrek and Chicago (a true career highlight for Sisi).
A year after Sisi met Craig, who was playing for the Sharks at the time, he took a five-year contract with a team in France. “It was a busy time. I would visit him for a few months and then come home and do a show. I was really lucky though as Steven (executive director of Kickstart) knew me and my capabilities, so I didn’t always have to audition for parts.”
A back injury forced Sisi to take some time off from dancing and she took a year-long sabbatical with Craig in Paris. “It was so amazing for us and we got engaged the following Christmas in 2018.” The couple were married in 2019 and, around the same time, Sisi opened her own small dance studio in Salt Rock. She also took on the role of resident choreographer (something she is passionate about) at Kickstart, just before the first hard lockdown in 2020.
The next best thing to dancing, Sisi says, has been teaching. Not wanting to focus only on dance, but rather groom performers for musical theatre as a whole, her studio is called the Performing Arts Centre and she now offers dance and private musical theatre lessons as well as tumbling classes.
Her studio is now run from her Ballito home and Sisi is enjoying her new ‘settled’ life. “I loved all the travelling and jumping from gig to gig, but it’s nice to slow down. And, of course, it was amazing being able to teach through my pregnancy.”
Deciding to start a family was a big decision for Sisi, perhaps bigger than for most people. “As a professional dancer, you are ultimately making a decision to let go of who you were. It wasn’t a decision I came to easily, but I’m so grateful that I did.”
With Craig having also recently retired from professional rugby, the couple are definitely living a different life nowadays. “It’s been such a whirlwind, but it’s also so exciting. We have had so much support and it feels like the right time for us.”
Text: Leah Shone | Photographs: Taryn van Rensburg Photography