Every step counts: Santa Fe native Dana Tai Soon Burgess returns to teach at NDI New Mexico

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Jan. 15—Dana Tai Soon Burgess grew up in the Casa Solana area of Santa Fe and had big dreams.

The dancer wanted to make an impact in the world.

Mission accomplished.

Today, Burgess has his own dance company, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company (DTSBDC), based out of Washington, D.C., which has contributed heavily to the arts scene.

The Santa Fe native was recently named as the inaugural artist to participate in National Dance Institute New Mexico's Teaching Artist in Residence Program.

"I love their organization," Burgess says. "I have such a deep love for New Mexico. I grew up near the dance barns in Santa Fe. It's an amazing opportunity."

According to NDI New Mexico, the program is designed as a unique opportunity to expand the organization's relationships with world-class choreographers, dancers and other artists, and to further its mission to help New Mexico youth develop critical life skills and realize their full potential through engagement with the arts.

Known as the "Diplomat of Dance," Burgess has served as a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. State Department for 30 years and is the first-ever choreographer-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution.

Now in its 30th season, Burgess' company is the preeminent modern dance company of Washington, D.C. Its repertory focuses on identity in the context of historical events and personal stories, thereby connecting the shared human experience and showcasing cultural confluence.

"The Teaching Artist in Residence program will give NDI New Mexico students a unique opportunity to work with an exceptional choreographer with a heart for youth development and dance education," says Liz Salganek, NDI New Mexico artistic director. "We know when students have the opportunity of working with great artists, it broadens their horizons, elevates their understanding of their own potential, builds their self-confidence and sets them on a path of finding their own artistic voices. This program also will provide new artistic opportunity and cultural enrichment for the NDI New Mexico staff and the broader community through an array of entirely new performances, events, workshops and classes scheduled throughout the year."

Burgess founded his dance company in 1992 in Washington, D.C.

Since 2016, Burgess has been the Smithsonian Institution's first-ever choreographer-in-residence.

In the role, he creates new work inspired by museum exhibits and participates in public discussions about dance and art.

He worked with the National Portrait Gallery on creating "El Muro/The Wall" which takes a look at immigration.

"This work deals with the southern border wall," Burgess says. "We'll be creating a new work about dreams and freedoms. We'll be setting a new work for the middle school students at NDI."

Participation by DTSBDC in The Hiland Theater's first-ever Hiland Arts/Dance Festival is scheduled for July.

The event will include dance performances by the Hiland Company dancers and members of DTSBDC, master classes and community events.

In addition to the public events and performances, Burgess and members of DTSBDC will hold classes for NDI New Mexico students; connect with dancers' families through an open-house, Q&A and family potluck; lead enrichment workshops for NDI New Mexico instructors and other dance educators and choreographers in Santa Fe and Albuquerque; and lead a panel discussion on the state of regional and national dance communities.

Burgess says his company has returned to New Mexico previously to do work with NDI and the University of New Mexico.

He will be traveling to Santa Fe in the spring and summer and will bring dancers from his company for the classes.

"My mom still lives in Santa Fe," Burgess says. "I've found an art form that allows me to work and create pieces that have impact. Growing up, there weren't many places to dance. I'm enjoying the idea of returning to teach the next generation of dancers."

Burgess recalls going to martial arts classes, as well as dance classes in Santa Fe as a child.

"I was usually the only boy in dance classes," he says. "What NDI has helped do is bring all dancers together and create a wonderful space. I didn't have that high quality of instruction available when I was growing up. It's an extra special homecoming for me. This area shaped and inspired me to create, dance, and share my artistic language. I'm beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to return the gift to the community that's very much in my heart."