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The Rambling Writer Book Review: Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly by Dana Tai Soon Burgess

Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly takes us into the heart of creative passion and dance movement, with insights into culture and art.

I’ve been reading books selected by the International Pulpwood Queens & Timber Guys Book Club since my novel Pause was chosen as a 2022 title. I was fortunate to “meet” Dana Tai Soon Burgess via Zoom during last winter’s Pulpwood Queens book conference, and was impressed by his eloquence and insights, as well as openness. The memoir of his journey from “the outsider” as a Korean-American boy in New Mexico to international acclaim as a dancer, choreographer, and founder of a trailblazing modern dance company is fascinating and enlightening.

Burgess touches on his ancestors’ history as immigrants brought from Korea to become indentured workers for a sugarcane company, then his own boyhood in Santa Fe. In a vivid memory of his toddler age, he describes wandering into his parents’ garden to be visited by monarch butterflies that inspired him to attempt what became his first “dance.” In a beautiful recurring symbol throughout the memoir, the butterfly breaking out of the cocoon into dancing/flying beauty becomes identified with stages of the author’s life. As the ”Chino” in the title reflects the label given to the few Asian-Americans in the Latino-dominated community, “mariposa” (butterfly in Spanish) was the term for a gay male. As a young man learning to embrace his sexuality as well as his art, Burgess claimed the derogatory terms and transformed them.

I learned a lot about creating dance, but I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the dance company’s internation excursions as cultural ambassadors from the U.S., and reflections of the different ways people create and utilize dance. Burgess is also a passionate supporter of the arts including painting and sculpture, and pioneered dances choreographed and performed inside museums and galleries. His explorations in dance of “hyphenated identities” like his own Korean-American identity lead to creating bridges between cultures and between types of audiences.

The memoir includes many evocative photos to help visualize the dances and unusual venues. (A highlight is performing by invitation at the Obama White House, with accompanying photo with the president.) A brilliant journey with the internationally-recognized “Diplomat of Dance.”

*****

You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Café is Pause, First Place winner of the Chanticleer Somerset Award and an International Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection. “A must-read novel about friendship, love, and killer hot flashes.” (Mindy Klasky). Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com

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