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Uniting the World Through Dance


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Dana Tai Soon Burgess is a leading choreographer, dancer, and cultural figure known worldwide as the Diplomat of Dance. His D.C.-based dance company will celebrate its 30th season this year.

In this episode of Motivational Mondays, you’ll learn about Burgess’ background, his new book, “Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly: A Memoir,” and how he’s actively uniting the world through dance.

How Burgess Became a Dancer

Burgess’ parents are both visual artists. Because of this, he grew up in a creative family but didn’t have the propensity to draw or paint. As a child, he was actively searching for his place in the world and after watching a Liberace special on TV, he wanted to be a pianist.

But his parents couldn’t afford a piano so his dad enrolled him in martial arts classes. It led to him taking a dance class with his friend. That was when he realized it was the perfect confluence of art, beauty, and the discipline of the body. He knew he was going to spend his life dancing.

How Burgess Is Uniting the World Through Dance

Burgess choreographs dances that draw out a sense of empathy from his audience. He likens creating a dance to writing a book. You start with a movement or a phrase; an idea or a concept you want to explore. You take that, lengthen it, and edit it. Then, you build in crescendos into the choreography.

Choreography is a synergy of dance and visual arts. That’s why so many of his performances happen in museums and why he became the first choreographer in residence at the Smithsonian. He works with curators and historians to dig deeply into the social context in which an artist’s life occurred.

Burgess’ Role as a Cultural Ambassador

Burgess was performing at the Kennedy Center when someone from the State Department came backstage and asked him to become a cultural ambassador. Artists are sent around the world on residencies to build relationships, collaborate with other artists, develop new audiences, and share expertise.

Burgess met a younger dancer in Pakistan that had been shot for publicly dancing. It never crossed his mind that you could be killed for being a dancer. Seeing the courage this dancer had to continue when his life was threatened forever impacted Burgess.

Listen to this episode to learn about...

[0:32] Why Burgess wrote “Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly.”
[3:27] Why humanity’s universal language is movement.
[5:47] The gentrification of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
[7:35] Burgess’ family who supported his creativity.
[11:40] How Burgess is uniting the world through dance.
[14:15] Burgess’ experience being a gay Asian-American.
[16:53] The Japanese internment camps.
[22:59] The global impact of Burgess’ work.
[28:12] Why “chino” is both a word of endearment and insult.

Listen to the bonus episode to understand the power of learning from your life’s journey and why you must embrace all that you are in order to fly.