Heed Chats with Dancer/Choreographer Anthony Burrell
Heed recently caught up with dancer/choreographer extraordinaire Anthony Burrell while he was in Philly. A few weeks ago Anthony, who can now be seen on Lifetimes smash hit show “Raising Asia”, sponsored his Breaking Barriers Summer Dance Intensive, providing dancers throughout the area with world class instruction. A student of dance, and sought after choreographer who has worked with everyone including Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and Rihanna, Anthony’s dance intensive serves as one of the ways he gives back. A native of Philadelphia, the former “So You Think You Can Dance?” contestant has had his fair share of hard times, but he has managed to overcome adversity to become a force to be reckoned with. Anthony took a few moments before his packed class at a neighborhood dance studio in to chat with Heed.
Heed Magazine: How does it feel back home?
Anthony Burrell: I come home often. Being in LA it’s not home. It’s nothing like home; I just need that dose of reality. It’s needed, especially when you’re surrounded by people who are trying to excel in LA. I get that good dose of reality and that’s what keeps me grounded, so I love being home.
HM: Tell us who you are.
AB: Anthony Burrell is a father first, then a dancer, choreographer, actor. I started dancing at the age of 12 in South Philadelphia. Attended Franklin Learning Center, from Franklin Learning Center I went to the University of the Arts and from there I went right to Alvin Ailey. So, I quit college and did that for 3 years. That’s when I met Beyonce’s choreographer Frank Gatson and he put me on Beyonce’s team. From that it’s been a roller coaster ride. I’ve been on maybe 6 or 7 tours from Beyonce, Destiny’s Child , Rihanna, Beyonce again, Mary J. Blige two times, Kesha, Mariah Carey…I’ve done Broadway, “Come Fly Away” with Twyla Tharp. I’ve done movies. And now I’m on a TV Show on lifetime. It’s been a great journey man. I always think about how blessed I am when I come home. Especially watching TV with my family and I’m on it? It’s just like damn, I came from this little shabby whole (laughs) and been around the world 7 times and have done things that people can only imagine. I realize how fortunate and blessed I am and I’m just grateful brother.
HM: It must be pretty special and you must be proud to be apart of the continuing legacy of people like Boyz II Men, Jazmine Sullivan and so many others doing exceptionally well in Entertainment. That must make you feel good.
AB: It makes me feel amazing. Especially because I look up to those artists! I mean I just saw Jazmine Sullivan the other day in the park and I’m her biggest fan. I think she probably thinks I’m creepy or something because it’s like I really celebrate her. Musically I think she’s a genius, maybe I’m biased because she’s from Philly. You can feel her soul. You can feel her story. She’s telling a story in each and every song she has and I connect with that. It’s grit, it’s real life and it’s art all at the same time.
HM: Tell us about your time on So You Think You Can Dance?
AB: It was basically for me to bring awareness that men do dance and men can still wear tights and be masculine. It was basically to inspire a generation of male dancers and say ‘hey, I’m a big ole black man, who can lift his leg really really high and still look like a man doing it.’ Ive accomplished that. After the show I got messages all the way from New Zealand, Ireland and people over the world who I had no idea I inspired. So my purpose was done. It wasn’t that I wanted to be in the top 10, but it was to inspire. I’ve never struggled in my career as a dancer. There’s not too many tall black, six feet, handsome guys like myself (laughs) that do what I do.
HM: Now you’re on LIfetime doing the show “Raising Asia”? That’s pretty cool!
AB: I met Asia on Abby’s ultimate Dance Competition about 2 years ago and we connected right away. She’s this little fireball and her mom saw that connection. I mean I was tough on her while I was coaching her and her mom loved it. So when they came and mentioned she was doing her own show, I was one of the first people on her list and you know Asia is a big Beyonce fan and they know I come from that background, so they’re like “I want Anthony, I want Anthony!” So they called me and it’s 14 episodes later and here I am.
HM: Speaking of Bey, how is it working with her?
AB: She’s the Michael Jackson of our time. There’s no explanation when you’re with a genius because that genius rubs off and when you’re around it it becomes contagious. You see the work ethic, you see the work that she puts in and it’s like I can’t be mediocre if I’m around this. I learned what my star was when I was with her because she shared the light. Every time that I’ve been on tour with Beyonce, I have a solo. A two minute solo at least.
AB: Yeah, they call me the wingman and she respects me for my Alvin Ailey training. She says “you went from Alvin Ailey to a hip hop star!” She carried me this way and she trusted me to be her assistant choreographer and she trusted me to be her dance captain. She trusted me and I’m still on her team now choreographing music videos and doing stuff on her new shows. She’s definitely like a little big sister. She got my back.
HM: So, tell us what inspired you to do your Breaking Barriers Dance Intensive here in Philly.
AB: Well, I come from a very unfortunate circumstance. My mom was drug addicted, my father same situation, and I was raised by my grandmom and she was on a fixed income. Because my mom had her situation, I was one of those self conscious kids because I didn’t have the best clothes; I didn’t have the Jordan’s. I was like a little dirty boy from South Philly. I was self conscious about it. I would hooky school because I didn’t want to wear certain clothes and I got left back! But getting left back was probably one of the best things that ever happened in my life because the following year they put me in a special program and I got all A’s and B’s and they skipped me back to 7th grade. They offered me a scholarship to go to Point Breeze Performing Arts Center in South Philly and that’s how I got started. The scholarship was crazy because it was either I could go to a performing arts camp that started at 9:30 or a sports camp that started at 7:30 and it was the summer time! So, I’m like I’m good cuz (laughs)! I’ll go put on them tights! And just imagine like 20 years later….God is good brother! I just want to shout to the Lord every time I think about it. I get chills when I think about it because I know God has a plan for me but I just never imagined that I would do the things I’ve done.
HM: What have your students taught you?
AB: I just know that the process of learning is continuous. You never stop growing and even as a teacher I still see things that I can fix on myself as a dancer, as an artist. I started Breaking Barriers because I see myself in those unfortunate kids who couldn’t afford to go to dance school, that needed that scholarship, that needed a male mentor…I gave 15 boys scholarships and 5 other scholarships to girls. I want to find the next Anthony Burrell that’s going to come out of Philadelphia and blaze these trails. It’s nothing like being able to say “yo Anthony Burrell inspired me!” I want to be that guy.
Be sure to check Anthony Burrell out on “Raising Asia,” Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime!
Photos © 2014 Jason McCoy & Byron Purnell III of B’Captured Productions