Dana Tai Soon Burgess has grown from an ambitious karate kid in New Mexico to the head of his own contemporary dance company in the District. As the newly named chair of the department of theatre and dance (who previously received a Master’s degree in dance from GW), the internationally renowned performer is the perfect inaugural subject for Spotlight On, a new column that asks influential members of the GW art community about their craft.
Hatchet Arts: Where did you first receive your training?
Dana Tai Soon Burgess: I was originally a martial artist from the ages of 7 to 15. At 16, I snuck into a friend’s ballet class and was hooked!
HA: How long have you been studying this art?
DTSB: 25 years.
HA: What inspires you?
DTSB: I am inspired by international dialogues with artists from various cultural backgrounds. My experiences in South America, the Middle East and Asia (through the U.S. Department of State) have been the most inspiring to my choreography, as well as to my teaching.
HA: Greatest accomplishment so far?
DTSB: Years ago I was sent to Peru by the State Department to choreograph a work on the National Ballet of Peru. This experience led to two Senior Fulbright Awards and multiple years of participation in the International Festival of New Dance, as well as touring throughout Peru. I have great satisfaction in knowing that a relatively small residency eight years ago has grown into a dynamic ongoing dialogue with the Peruvian contemporary dance community.
HA: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
DTSB: I hope to be teaching a whole new generation of dancers here at GW, as well as choreographing works that speak to contemporary issues facing America and the world regarding global identity.
HA: If you were unable to do your art anymore, what would you do?
DTSB: I would love to be a cultural attaché for an American Embassy in South America or Asia.
HA: What is your hidden talent?
DTSB: I am a great salsa dancer!
HA: What can always make you smile?
DTSB: I always smile when I see a young dancer’s first choreographic study. It is great to know that the field of dance continues generation after generation.