Dana Tai Soon Burgess

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Dana Tai Soon Burgess
Dana Tai Soon Burgess in Mongolia.jpg
Dana Tai Soon Burgess in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in March, 2011
Born (1968-02-26) February 26, 1968 (age 47)
Carmel, California
Occupation dancer, choreographer, cultural envoy, advocate
Years active 1991–present

Dana Tai Soon Burgess (born February 26, 1968) is an internationally acclaimed choreographer, performance artist, and cultural figure. His work has tended to focus on the "hyphenated person" - someone who is of mixed ethnic or cultural heritage - as well as issues of belonging and societal acceptance.[1] He serves as a cultural envoy for the U.S. State Department, an appointment he uses to promote international cultural dialogue through "the global language of dance". Throughout his career, Burgess has performed, taught, and choreographed around the world.[1]

Early life & Education[edit]

Burgess was born in California but grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the son of visual artists Joseph James Burgess Jr. and Anna Kang Burgess. He began dancing at the age of 16 after a brief childhood career as a competitive martial artist. He is descended from the first group of Korean immigrants to come to America. His earliest Korean American ancestors are Chin Hyung Chai, who arrived in Hawaii aboard the Gaelic, known as the 'first ship', in 1903, and Man Soo Kang who arrived on the ship Manchuria in 1904.[2] They became Hawaiian plantation workers.

After graduating from Santa Fe High School in 1985, Burgess attended the University of New Mexico and studied dance and Asian history. Burgess graduated in 1990 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended the George Washington University and completed a Masters in Fine Arts in 1994. He has trained with notable dancers, such as Tim Wengerd and Judith Bennahum. He also studied the Michio Itō technique in Washington, D.C.[1]

Choreography & Dance Company[edit]

In 1992, Burgess established the Moving Forward: Contemporary Asian American Dance Company. This was renamed in 2005 to Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. (DTSB&Co.) and again in 2013 to Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company (DTSBDC). It is the preeminent contemporary dance company in the Washington, D.C. area.[3]

In 1994 he received the award for Outstanding Emerging Artist at the 12th Annual Mayor Arts Award Ceremony. His dance company was awarded the Mayor's Arts Award for Excellence in 2005.[4] He has completed two senior Fulbrights in dance and won seven Metro D.C. Dance Awards as well as the Pola Nirenska Award.[1]

He has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution and was a prominent feature in the Smithsonian exhibition "A Korean American Century" as part of the Korean American Centennial Celebration in 2003.[5]

Stacy Taus-Bolstad mentioned Burgess and some of his career highlights in her 2005 book Koreans in America alongside comedian Margaret Cho under "Famous Korean Americans".[6]

In 2006 he retired from dancing due to a bad back. But in 2008 he returned to the stage as a stand-in for one of his dancers, which resulted in a Washington Post review by critic Sarah Kaufman called "Retired Burgess Hasn't Lost A Step" that said "Burgess has emerged as the area's leading dance artist, consistently following his own path and producing distinctive, well-considered works." The performance included the premiere of Hyphen, a surrealist dance work featuring 1960s video images by Nam June Paik.[7]

In 2009 Burgess was featured in advertisements for the "New 202" campaign produced by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to highlight art and culture in the nation's capital.[8]

He has been referred to as the "poet laureate of Washington dance".[9]

In 2012 he was described as "not only a Washington prize, but a national dance treasure" by Pulitzer Prize winner Sarah Kaufman.[10]

In May, 2014 he was quoted in Smithsonian magazine as saying his artistic focus had shifted to exploring the idea of cultural "confluence".[11]


Burgess's dance works have been performed in numerous venues, including the Kennedy Center, La Mama, the United Nations headquarters, Dance Place, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Asia Society, and the Lincoln Center Out of Doors. He spoke and presented his dance Dariush at the White House at the invitation of President Barack Obama in May 2013 as part of National Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.[12]

Burgess's choreography has also been commissioned by Ballet Memphis and the Kennedy Center. His work "The Nightingale" toured to over 70 American cities.

Burgess' work has focused on the immigrant experience and cultural divides, which has resulted in several of his performances being showcased on prominent State Department sponsored tours around the world. He has taught, lectured, performed and toured around the world in countries such as Surinam, Egypt, Israel, Korea, China, India, Mongolia, Venezuela, Germany, Latvia, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Peru, and Cambodia, among others.[10]

Youth Programs[edit]

At the time he founded his dance company, Burgess also established the Moving Forward: Asian American Youth Program, which was a summer program for Asian American youth. The program still operates under the name DTSB Asian American Youth Program, and is a year-round mentoring program for high school students. Feeling "caught between different cultural worlds" as a child, Burgess has said he created the program as a way for young people to explore identity, artistic self-expression, and their Asian American heritage.[13]

Burgess during a public performance on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2002.

Recent Work[edit]

On August 11, 2013, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company performed a new dance work Revenant Elegy at The National Gallery of Art, inspired by their Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes Exhibit, organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum of London.[14] This was followed by a residency at the National Portrait Gallery, where Burgess created a dance work called Homage inspired by the museum's "Dancing the Dream" exhibition. Both Revenant Elegy and Homage were performed at the Kennedy Center in February, 2014.[15]

He was the first resident choreographer at the National Portrait Gallery from 2013-2014. In April of 2014, Burgess premiered the new work Confluence there to critical acclaim.[16] Burgess and his dancers were featured as part of the museum's “Dancing the Dream” exhibition, where his portrait hung alongside modern-dance pioneers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, and contemporary masters Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris. Audiences and museum tourists were able to observe the "living exhibit" of Burgess choreographing and rehearsing with his dancers from August, 2013 through July, 2014.[17]

Burgess was previously featured at the National Portrait Gallery in the KYOPO exhibit, a work by artist CYJO in 2011.[18]

In May 2014 he told Smithsonian magazine that his work Confluence, created as part of DTSBDC's residency at National Portrait Gallery, explored “an underlying inter-connectedness" of all people. When asked if this work was "influenced by America’s increasingly diverse population", he said, “Yes, I think the cultural terrain is changing as is my company’s focus. Somehow I feel that my aesthetic is embracing a much larger vision of humanity’s shared emotional journey.”[11]

In November 2014 the Korean Cultural Center of Washington, DC presented an exhibition called "Ancestry, Artistry, Choreography" about Burgess, his immigrant ancestors, and his dance company that "document[ed] his multicultural background and its influence on his ballet-meets-contemporary work".[19] The exhibition featured family photographs and artifacts, including his grandfather's 1903 passport, as well as 22 large photographs, costumes, props and video from the dance company's 22 year history.[20]

Burgess premiered Picasso Dances, a work inspired by four Picasso paintings at the Kreeger Museum, in March 2015 to critical acclaim. The piece was a result of a 3 month residency at the museum.[21]

Burgess has retired from dancing due to a back injury, but is still teaching and choreographing extensively.[10]


Burgess has taught at the Kirov Academy of Ballet and the Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C., the Hamburg Ballet in Germany, the National Ballet of Peru, San Marcos University in Peru, Sejong University in Korea, as well as in China, Mongolia, India, Jordan, and British Virgin Islands, among others.

Burgess' teaching career has also included George Mason University, Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. Burgess became Director of Georgetown University's dance program in 1994. He began teaching at George Washington University in 2000, where he currently serves as Chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance. Burgess designed and oversaw the implementation of a new, global distance and onsite learning MFA program for dance at the George Washington University in 2011.[22]

He has served on the board of Asian American Arts and Media and was a commissioner for the Commission for the Arts and Humanities for the District of Columbia.[1] As of 2013, he serves as a commissioner for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Affairs for Washington, DC.[23]

Personal life[edit]

In 2011, "The Reliable Source" reported that Burgess became engaged to artist Jameson Freeman while touring the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.[24] They live in Washington, D.C.


  1. ^ a b c d e Guide to the Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. and Moving Forward: Contemporary Asian American Dance Company Records, 1988-2012, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University
  2. ^ Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi. "Korean Passengers Arriving in Honolulu 1903-1905". Resources for Research on Koreans in Hawaii. March, 2001. http://www.korean-studies.info/pdf/pass200a.pdf
  3. ^ Bird, Mary. "Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. Celebrates at Mie n Yu". The Georgetowner. The Georgetowner. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Gilbert, Sophie. "Dana Tai Soon Burgess on 20 Years of Dance". Washingtonian Magazine. September 17, 2012. http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/afterhours/dance/dana-tai-soon-burgess-on-20-years-of-dance.php.
  5. ^ Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. "Korean American Centennial Celebration". The George Washington University" February 4, 2003. http://www.gwu.edu/~media/pressrelease.cfm?ann_id=4984
  6. ^ Taus-Bolstad, Stacy. "Koreans in America". "Lerner Pub Group." March, 2005. http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0822548747/ref=sr_1_4?p=S01U&keywords=dana+tai+soon+burgess&ie=UTF8&qid=1322446908#reader_0822548747"
  7. ^ Kaufman, Sarah (27 October 2008). "Retired Burgess Hasn't Lost A Step". The Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  8. ^ D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities. "The New 202. Art 202 Blog. August 17, 2010. http://art202.com/2009/08/17/the-new-202/
  9. ^ Kaufman, Sarah. "Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company Perform 'Charlie Chan and the Mysteries of Love". The Washington Post. October 25, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/24/AR2010102402665.html.
  10. ^ a b c Kaufman, Sarah. "Burgess at 20: Dance fully evolved". The Washington Post. September 23. 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/burgess-at-20-dance-fully-evolved/2012/09/23/140bfb60-05a5-11e2-a10c-fa5a255a9258_story.html.
  11. ^ a b "Museums and How the Arts are Presenting Identity So That It Unites, Not Divides". 'Smithsonian Magazine.' May 29, 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-museums-arts-are-presenting-identity-so-it-unites-not-divides-180951560/?no-ist
  12. ^ Bird, Mary. "'Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. at the White House". The Georgetowner June 5, 2013. http://www.georgetowner.com/articles/2013/jun/05/dana-tai-soon-burgess-white-house/.
  13. ^ Bale, Eric. "A Whale of an Effort". The Washington Post. August 2, 1993, p. B7.
  14. ^ Kaufman, Sarah (8 February 2014). "Dana Tai Soon Burgess's dance pieces at Kennedy Center revel in the still moments". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  15. ^ Jackson, George (April 19, 2014). "Encounters". Dance View Times (Dance View Times). Retrieved 9 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Kaufman, Sarah. "Dancing to the heart of the matter". The Washington Post. September 20, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_dance/dancing-to-the-heart-of-the-matter/2012/09/20/ba7b50a6-0355-11e2-91e7-2962c74e7738_story.html.
  17. ^ Sabin, Brooke. "D.C.’s “Little Dancer” Goes Big Time". Where Magazine. October 24, 2014. http://www.wheretraveler.com/washington-dc/dc-s-little-dancer-goes-big-time.
  18. ^ Korean Cultural Center. "Ancestry, Artistry, Choreography: Exhibition Opening Reception and Performance". Korean Cultural Center. November, 2014. http://www.koreaculturedc.org/En/Explore/Content.asp?Idx=507&Part=EH.
  19. ^ Wren, Celia. "From canvas to stage". The Washington Post. March 27, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_dance/from-canvas-to-stage/2015/03/27/a624f410-d4a2-11e4-a62f-ee745911a4ff_story.html.
  20. ^ Abrams, Amanda. "GW Launches Dance MFA Program". Washington City Paper. November 30, 2010. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/performance-and-dance/2010/11/30/gwu-launches-dance-mfa-program/.
  21. ^ Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs. "Mayor swears in new commissioners". Government of the District of Columbia" February 11, 2013. http://apia.dc.gov/DC/APIA/About+OAPIA/News+Room/Press+Releases/Mayor+Vincent+C+Gray+Swears+in+New+Members+of+the+DC+Commission+on+Asian+and+Pacific+Islander+Affairs.
  22. ^ The Reliable Source. "Love, etc.". "The Washington Post." August 10, 2011. "http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/reliable-source/post/love-etc-dc-choreographer-dana-tai-soon-burgess-gets-engaged/2011/08/10/gIQA8eL66I_blog.html"

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