Dana Tai Soon Burgess: Finding a Sense of Belonging

Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company is a contemporary dance company based in DC. In addition to directing the company, Dana is associate professor of dance at George Washington University, teaches modern dance at Joy of Motion/Bethesda and runs an Asian-American dance outreach and mentorship program for high school students in DC. Currently, he and the company are preparing for their upcoming production at Dance Place which runs October 22nd through October 24th. The show will feature his latest piece, as well as his previous production Island.

photo credit: Lawrence Luk

Dana’s newest work Charlie Chan and The Mystery of Love explores the issues of straddling two worlds and finding a sense of belonging. Throughout the production, Charlie Chan, a fictional Chinese-American detective created in the 1920s, acts as a filter to reality. The main character pictures himself in the fantasy world of Charlie Chan to escape his real life situation of not fitting in. According to Dana, this is an autobiographical and very personal piece that discusses his memories of growing up as an Asian-American in New Mexico.


According to Dana, he is always looking for inspiration and it comes from a variety of ways. In this case, he was inspired by a fictional character he grew up with and thought about how Charlie Chan influenced his own life. Once he came up with the idea, he conducted research, thought about potential collaborators and experimented with movement concepts and music choices.

Choreography and Movement

In regards to choreography, Dana likes to construct dances that make people think. He will often try movements backwards and then forward or mix up various sections. “I know I’m choreographing well when it just flows,” he said. “Often times I’m not quite sure where it is going, but then it will clarify itself.” That would probably be difficult for me as a dancer, but Dana has been lucky enough to work with many of the same dancers throughout the years.

One advantage of working with dancers on a long-term basis is that they have the ability to learn your style. In Dana’s case, the style is contemporary dance that incorporates nuances of emotion through gesture and posture. Spectators often notice a martial arts element in Dana’s style, as well as his unique usage of time. His productions are created to reflect the fact that people don’t think in a linear fashion. Often there is not necessarily an exact story line, but the overall piece still tells a narrative.

In addition to Charlie Chan and The Mystery of Love, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company is scheduled to perform a site specific piece at the Corcoran in November. The dance company will also travel to Mongolia next year to teach master classes and perform pieces from its repertoire. For more information about Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, please visit www.dtsbco.com.

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