Smithsonian choreographer-in-residence visits TU for week-long, on-campus residency

Dana Tai Soon Burgess hosted workshops, classes, special performance from his dance company

By Kyle Hobstetter on October 11, 2023

Dana Tai Soon Burgess working with the TU Dance Team
Dana Tai Soon Burgess, a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department and the first choreographer-in-residence for the Smithsonian Institute, works with members of the TU Dance Team. (Alex Wright / Towson University)

Towson University’s College of Fine Arts & Communication continues to provide its students with incredible experiences without having to leave campus.

During the last week of September, world-renowned choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess held a special one-week residency on campus. He taught master classes and workshops, held a book signing for his memoir (through a partnership with the Asian Arts and Culture Center), and worked with the Towson University Dance Company.

Burgess is one the United States’ leading choreographers, a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department and the first choreographer-in-residence for the Smithsonian Institute.

The week ended with a rare on-campus performance by the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, the preeminent modern dance company in Washington D.C. The performance was the perfect end to a week that allowed Burgess to truly leave his mark on Towson University.

“It's wonderful, because in a way I get the best of all worlds,” Burgess says. “I get to drop in, learn about the Towson University program and, at the same time, engage with it and offer what I know. It is obviously a very strong program. It has excellent teachers, wonderful students and a curriculum that obviously builds the professional dancer.”

Burgess’ TU residency was made possible by the Rosenberg Distinguished Artist Endowment, a fund established in 1998 by The Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation through a multi-year commitment of $200,000. The fund supports artist residencies in dance and theatre that foster opportunities for in-depth learning and substantive artist–student interaction.

The residency was also funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Burgess has a longstanding relationship with the university. Catherine Horta-Hayden, professor and chair in TU’s Department of Dance, was the President of the International Council of Organized Researchers of Pedagogical Studies de Ballet (CORPS de Ballet). 

As president, she hosted the international conference of ballet pedagogues at TU and invited Burgess to teach a master class in composition/choreography for the participants.

Horta-Hayden thought Burgess would be the perfect choice for this year’s residency and was excited for students to learn from Burgess and bring a professional dance company to campus.

“This experience is integral to our students’ education,” Horta-Hayden says. “Our curriculum provides students incredible preparation to enter their field. But the education that bringing an artist of Dana’s caliber provides is unmeasurable. He is a renowned choreographer, artistic director, and artist who has created a successful career collaborating with visual and design artists, musicians, composers, historians and scholars. Someone who has traveled all over the world spreading the message of the power of dance and giving others a voice through movement.”

Members of the TU Dance Company
The TU Dance Company rehearses for their "Echoing Visions" performance, which is choreographed by Dana Tai Soon Burgess. (Alex Wright / Towson University) 

While the residency is done, Burgess is not done working with Towson University students. From Nov. 15–19, the TU Dance Company will perform “Echoing Visions,” a program that looks into the past, present and future through classical and contemporary ballet and modern dance.

This includes a special section called “A Tribute to Marian Anderson,” which Burgess choreographed and spent his residency week working with students.

Marian Anderson, a Civil Rights icon, was an African American contralto who was once banned from performing at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., because it was segregated. Then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited Anderson to perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial, attended by 75,000 and heard by thousands more on the radio.

“We chose this specific work for the TU Dance Company because it allows us to also talk about history in a moment when cultural dialogues within America are so needed and so important,” Burgess says.

One of the students performing as part of the TU Dance Company is Sonja Stahl ’24, a dance performance and choreography major from Baltimore.

One of the reasons she came to Towson University was to be part of the TU Dance Company and receive opportunities like this. Most importantly, she says the dance program prepares students for life after graduation.

“It’s been really amazing getting the opportunity to work with someone like Dana, who is in the dance industry right now,” Stahl says. “TU is bringing people to us because that’s ultimately where we’re going to be. We get to see how they work, what they work like and that helps us become more prepared for when we graduate.”

TU Dance Company 

TU Dance Company presents "Echoing Visions" 

Nov. 15–19
Weds., Thurs., Fri. and Sat. 7 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.

“Echoing Visions” features new works by professors Runqiao Du, Susan Mann and Alison Seidenstricker, as well as guest artist Andrea Miller (Gallim Dance) and Dana Tai Soon Burgess, the 2023–24 Rosenberg Distinguished Artist and resident choreographer for the Smithsonian. Visit for more information.