Over the last decade, this man has traveled the world and created dance routines for some of the worlds biggest entertainers. Most of you know the name, but one thing is for sure, we all know the dances. Anthony Burrell is his name and dancing around the world is his claim to fame. Anthony recently opened up his new dance studio in the Atlanta area and we got the chance to ask him a few questions about his well-respected career.
When it comes to your passion for dance, when did you realize that was something you wanted to pursue?
I realized dance was my passion at the age of 14 when I realized Alvin Ailey was in existence. I’ve watched nearly every performance and I knew from that day that it was something that I was going to do. It was going to be that vehicle that transported and transmitted me out of the hood and catapult me to the next level of my life.
What steps did you take after realizing this is something you wanted to do?
I started training in Philly. I would work with my grandma because my mom was a drug addict and I didn’t know my father so I had minimal resources and when I found dance, it was the outlet I needed. I got a scholarship through the Cigna Foundation and it was almost like dance kind of found me. Once I found dancing, things just started to happen. I never asked for certain situations. It just felt like things were just falling into my lap. I realized that I had a bit of talent and people started redirecting me to more serious institutions like the Pennsylvania Ballet, University of the Arts.
When do you feel like your big break came as far as your dancing and choreography?
My big break came when I was performing. I was at the University of the Arts and the dancers in the Philadelphia area were performing for Judith Jamison, who was the artistic director for Alvin Ailey at the time. She came to receive an award in Philly at my dance school where I was choreographing and teaching. Immediately after I did my solo, she stopped the event and took me outside to talk. I felt like that was the breaking moment in my life and my career where I was definitely walking in the path of my destiny; meeting her and having her talk to me and invited me to the company audition.
We have seen you with some of the world’s biggest and legendary celebrities. Tell us about those experiences when you first started working with the likes of Mariah Carey or Beyonce.
Just like everyone else, I grew up listening to Destiny’s Child and Beyonce and I grew up dancing to her. I would audition and then they would want me to be apart of their tour and team. I became a pivotal part of their team like rehearsal director, assistant choreographers, choreographers, creative director or wherever the need was. They saw something in me that a lot of other dancers didn’t have, which was that technical background. I think that’s why it’s so important to keep that technical structure because it shows how refined you are. It gives you a certain presence. It gives you a quality of standing by a woman. It gives you a certain debonair. You know how to have a certain demeanor when you’re presenting a woman, walking a woman down the steps and I think that’s what they appreciated most. That I could make the simplest things become elegant.
So what is one thing that you’ve always dreamed about that at this point in your life you can say you’ve accomplished?
Opening my school was my dream, my goal, and I’ve never made any other goals after that besides opening up a dance studio. Here I am, right now from 1998 to 2018, in these 20 years I’ve accomplished all of my dreams and aspirations.
So being in the industry for 20 years and setting this goal, what are some other things that you can see yourself accomplishing?
I can see myself producing, directing music videos, tv shows, productions, and mentoring. It’s all surrounding dance, branches of dance and how I can affect people through my art. I can affect and inspire through my movement or my choreography, my dancing and through my teaching. That’s where this vehicle is going to lead you because I think it’s multifaceted. It could go in any direction. I can go into the school systems or a professor at a university. I’ve never been stable. I’ve been on tours for the last 15 years of my life. So now that I have the ability to sit back and be stationed in one city, I want to make my own lane.
So tell us why Atlanta was such an important city for you to start your dream studio?
Atlanta is one of America’s largest cities for progressive African Americans and I just love being around powerful African Americans. Seeing my people thrive is inspiring and there is nothing like what I want to bring here to the Atlanta, Fulton County area. There’s no structured institution that gives a curriculum based dance education. You have all the other studios that predominantly focus on commercial hip-hop, which is great because there’s a huge hip-hop market here and reality TV, but there’s not that structure that Atlanta Ballet gives that’s geared towards people of color. So I want to be that Alvin Ailey or Debbie Allen of the south and bring what they have and create that here. I want to become the premier studio, the premier institution of the south for people of color.
Alvin Ailey has an amazing legacy. When you think of your legacy, what do you see for your legacy when people talk about you 50 years from now, what do you want people to say?
Anthony is and was a multifaceted dancer, choreographer, actor, producer. I’ve always been a person that’s never been fearful and when you put an opportunity in front of me, I’m willing to go for it because I believe in making my plan A my only plan.
What is the best advice that you’ve received in your life that you still use to this day?
There are a couple of things. One that I’ve learned are the three D’s; dedication, determination, discipline. I used part of that philosophy when I’m teaching. If you really want something, it’s up to you to really make it happen. Once you’re 18, you’re an adult and can make decisions. You can make your dreams become a reality if you really believe and you really put your mind to it. I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s so true. So true!! You got to put in the work. If you want to be a great dancer, you’ve got to put in those hours. I always say it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional. So start training, start working and getting it in. If you want to be great, you’ve got to train like the greats. Put in the work and really invest in your craft.
Being a father who has a child that’s being raised in today’s society, what are some things that you instill in your daughter to make sure that she becomes the best that she can be?
My daughter is 12 years old. I teach her confidence. I teach her to be secure in her skin, her hair, texture, and her body type. Just be secure in who you are and always be gracious and humble and respectful of yourself, others and your elders.
What is some advice today that you may have that you would give to the younger version of you?
I would give younger Anthony a few little nods of advice. Stay encouraged and know that every trial turns into a triumph. All of the shortcomings that you will experience in life were all a setup for what the bigger picture was, which was the greater things that are now arriving in life.
Be sure to visit Anthony Burrell’s website and if you’re ever in the Atlanta area, stop by for a dance class.