Dana Tai Soon Burgess, 47, is a choreographer and dancer who started his award-winning contemporary dance company in Washington in 1992. He lives in the Palisades.
Why do people dance?
All cultures move. So when you go back in time there are some fundamental reasons why people dance, whether it’s to solidify being part of a tribe or whether it’s to celebrate the planting and gathering of crops, whether it’s to be connected to divinity or spirituality and also to really celebrate life. To bring people together and to entertain. Before there was a verbal language or a written language, there’s a fundamental language that we understand inherently, which is movement and gesture.
How would you describe the way that D.C. moves?
I think it’s very dependent on the neighborhood you’re in. The closer you get to, say, Capitol Hill, for instance, movement becomes more time-specific, a little more harried. There’s a certain rushing around and a clumping of individuals talking. As you move away from there, things sort of disperse and movement eases up.
Should people really dance as if no one was looking?
[Laughs.] I think in the quietude of their own home, yes. I do believe you need to study your craft every day, and not everyone can be a professional dancer, but everyone can feel a passion for dance, whether it’s as an audience member or as a supporter. But not everyone should be dancing with complete abandon, I would say.
What inspires you?
Finding out about people’s stories and how they individually intersect with something that’s going on in their lives or social context, or a certain historic event. How do these individual stories that I listen to help illuminate these larger trends in our society and in the world?
Is there an accomplishment you’re proudest of in the world of dance?
I do feel very honored to have been the first resident choreographer for the National Portrait Gallery. Because I found it really fascinating to be working in the museum structure with audiences walking through while I’m choreographing. That sort of situation is very engaging and unusual, and it’s nice to get out of the studio — that can be a little stunting.
What experience do you want to create for your audiences?
I’m very interested in presenting work that takes an audience on a journey. It’s an abstract journey that, by the end, they are emotionally moved in some way. I like it when an audience finds a dance a little more meditative and they are following along, and then all of a sudden there’s an epiphany moment for them. That’s my goal.
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