Dianna David quit her job as a mechanical engineer to enroll in clown school. Photographs by Mark Burgos courtesy of Alliance Francaise de Manille
Culture Spotlight

This engineer left a cushy desk job for clown school, and started a global movement

Dianna David bucks what she describes as a narrow path to success, and will begin an eight-country tour on an empowering mission inspired by a shiny red ball.
Fidel Feria | Mar 13 2019

Dianna David was four years old when she first saw Michael Jackson do the moonwalk. Along with the rest of the planet (years before the sordid allegations against the star came to light), this young Filipina-Canadian from Edmonton, Alberta was electrified. It was an inaugural event that would prompt a string of artistic pursuits—a dance performance at her brother’s piano recital, ballet and jazz classes, and her formation of a hip-hop dance troupe in high school. By this time, David knew that she just had to move.

This unflagging urge would follow David even to the workplace. Although she had graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering to meet her parents’ ideal of success—a job, a family, a 401 (k)—David left her engineering job of four years to enroll in clown school.

Yes, clown school.

In 2015, she gave a TED talk in Canada, which garnered a lot of attention.

These experiences found their way into what is now a famous TEDxTalk given by David. With over 900,000 views on YouTube, “Have the balls to follow your dreams,” is an impeccable performance of speech and movement storytelling with a red ball. It was on object that proved instrumental for David in clown school. (It would later serve the name of her cause.)

In the talk, she details the “itch” that prompted her to quit the desk job and plunge into performing arts—all the while interacting with different things around her (a chair, her hat, and, of course, the aforementioned ball) in an almost balletic manner. Since that TEDxTalk, David has taken the mission a step further, starting The Red Ball Movement that guides its audience toward self-discovery through dance and expressive therapy.

We spoke with David, 41, who is in the middle of her Red Ball Movement World Mission Tour across eight countries.

 

Birth of a movement

The TED speaking engagement in Renfrew-Collingwood in Vancouver spurred David into deeper action.

“(The movement) started right after my TedxTalk in 2015. Looking back at the 10 years prior to that talk, (I realized) the Red Ball was the through line to my own life transformations, self-realizations, triumphs and tribulations,” David says. “It had been a companion on the journey versus just a trick in my bag. The concept of something so simple had given me purpose, focus and drive to create.”

She adds, “I wanted to prove to myself that all my training had equipped me to take my red ball all around the world, onto any stage, any environment, any audience and any moment, that I could be a waking story for others to see dreams can be possible.” She uprooted herself and took the Red Ball on a mission to go around the world to spread this advocacy.

Using her aptitude for dance, David emulated Michael Jackson, Charlie Chaplin, and even Mr. Bean to easily engage her audience. David later studied Physical Theatre and Mime, extending her reach beyond language and cultural barriers.

 

On a global mission

Since the beginning of 2019, Dianna has held true to her mission of inspiring others, embarking on her Red Ball Mission Tour. Slated for a run until May 2019, Dianna will travel eight countries to share her message of movement.

In May, she will go on an eight country tour to spread her Red Ball Movement.

So what exactly happens during these programs? As a performing artist, David uses expressive therapy that, among others, uses sound, acting, and clowning. She also devised what she calls her Make MOVES methodology. This, she explains, has three core values: MOVE (Manifest Our Vibration Everywhere), PLAY (Practice Learning About Yourself), and LOVE (Learning Our Valuable Exchange).

 

 

Challenging convention

In 2004, when David left her engineering job to enroll in clown school, it was met with criticism from her parents. Her mother, a bookstore manager, and father, an architect, were both Filipino immigrants. But David was steadfast in her pursuit all the same.

“I know that if I had already achieved their ideals of success by the age of 24, then what more can they say? If I wanted to, then I could, but there was more for me,” David shares.

The response had been prompted by a question on young people—how so many of them may feel a bit boxed in by circumstance, operating only on what had been plotted out for them by degrees, overbearing parents, or by an irrational clamor for the “ideal.”

There is an assuredness to her response. “I had to accept that I was born to be different and I was given the inner curiosity to seek it. I would be tormenting myself if I didn’t.”

 

Find out more about Dianna David’s advocacy and World Mission Tour at diannadavid.ca.

Photographs by Mark Burgos courtesy of Alliance Francaise de Manille