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Friday, April 10, 2009

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Burju Perez, Latin Dancer and Shoe Designer

Born in Istanbul and raised in New York City from the age of two, Burju Perez is one of the original 4 founders of H.Y.M (Hacha Y Machete), a salsa dance company. In 2001, she became the director along with her fiancé and dance partner, Victor. At that time, the two ran the company part time after their day jobs. In 2003, Burju made a life-changing decision to pursue a career in Latin dance.

This decision was prompted when her good friend and mentor Juan Matos offered her an opportunity to tour Italy for one month. She left her job at Putnam Investments and has since traveled to over 75 cities all over the world teaching and performing. She directs and choreographs for 3 teams consisting of over 40 dancers as well as choreographs and produces showcases for a national award-winning teen troop. She has helped develop the “Learn Through Dance” in-school program that affords inner city elementary students the opportunity to learn dance and experience the benefits of engaging in the arts.

Burju has worked very hard to develop her own style of Salsa that incorporates her background in different disciplines. She began as a Rhythmic Gymnast and trained in Ballet and Jazz at a young age. She then became interested in Hip-Hop and Modern and danced in various dance troops and productions over the years. In college, Burju became a part of a dance troop that incorporated Latin dancing. This is where her current journey began.

Burju met her husband and best friend through dance, which is the main reason it remains such a major part of her life. Dance has given them the opportunity to be entrepreneurs together and to travel the world together.

Career Highlights include being awarded “International Best Artist,” and “International Best Instructor” in 2007 at the United Kingdom Salsa Congress. Burju has served as the main judge for International World Salsa Championships, performed on stage with the world’s best known Salsa bands, and has auditioned for shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Got Talent.” A philanthropist in the making, Burju also holds an annual dance shoe drive that donates brand new Burju Shoes to different youth groups around the world, and has developed “Learn Through Dance,” a program that brings Latin Dance in to public schools.

Today, she is the founder and designer of Burju Shoes, a dance-inspired shoe line that brings comfort and style to one shoe ( and is getting ready for their launch in New York City later this month. Peachy Deegan interviewed Burju Perez recently for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: Is Salsa your favorite form of dance?
Burju Perez: Wow! Tough question. I love so many forms of dance but I hold Salsa the most near and dear because it is the one I get to do with my husband.

Does the Salsa style differ in Spain compared to Manhattan?
Yes. In fact there are many different styles of Salsa. New York is famous for "New York Style" or "Mambo" or "On 2" (which means we accent the second or up beat in the music). But thanks to Salsa Festivals and Congresses that occur in Spain and all over the world, people from everywhere are able to learn all the different styles. Our dance company is a New York Style dance company. We teach and perform this style here, in Massachusetts and all over the world.

What kind of dance shoes did you wear before you made your own and how were you able to improve on the styles that existed?
I've had a pair of pretty much every brand of Salsa, Latin, Tango, Ballroom dance shoe. Many were good when it came to comfort and support but what lacked in my opinion was style. Here's where I come in. I've become known in the dance industry as someone that loves color and fashion. It is apparent in many of the costumes we wear in our performances to the outfits we wear at the parties. It was a bit disappointing to not have some shoes that really stood out. After doing some damage to my ankles and hip due to wearing shoes that were high in fashion but a big "no-no" for dancing I finally decided I needed to do something about it. I managed to find a manufacturer that produced a high quality, stable dance shoe then drove them crazy until they agreed to give me more color and material options to work with. That was the start. Then came the actually designing of the shoes and adding of the custom trim. It's just in my nature to keep pushing for new and exciting things!

What did you do at Putnam Investments?
I was an Account Analyst. I basically did the accounting on mutual fund portfolios. Not a very creative job which is why I didn't last...

What do you think of the investment industry today compared to the dance industry?
I still invest on my own, especially in real estate. It was just not the industry for me to work in. I am not the type to be in a cubicle all day crunching numbers and running reports. I need creative outlets, and lots of them. I need to be in social environments. I enjoy teaching and performing. I am so glad and proud of the moment that I decided to take the plunge and I don't ever see myself going back. Especially if my investments in real estate and business take off.

How do you like being a judge?
To be honest it's not my favorite thing to do. I had my time as a competitor when I did Rhythmic Gymnastics from age 7-15. It was very stressful and it took the fun out of the art for me. That's why when I pursued Latin Dance as a career I decided that competition wasn't the way I wanted to go. I prefer being an entertainer. I was asked to judge at a few of the congresses I was performing at and it turns out I was good at it. So I became a regular fixture. I am fair and consistent and offer honest and open feedback to help those really trying to excel. I also figure that judging will be another skill that I can use to market myself further in the dance industry. Perhaps a future judge on a reality dance show (wink, wink).

What is challenging about being a judge?
When you’re judging you don't often get to just relax and appreciate the show. You have to watch for good timing, connection, technique, posture, etc. For me I watch with a different set of eyes when judging . A perfectly executed piece does not necessarily mean it was the best show. I have seen many shows, even danced by amateurs that have really touched me or impressed me and left a long lasting impression but were definitely not perfect. I feel a bit of internal conflict with the artist in me that just enjoys movement and musical interpretation and the one judge that must seek out the best execution.

Do you believe it is possible to teach everyone to dance?
Yes I do. One of my biggest inspirations is a gentlemen from Columbia that has one leg amputated but he still dances salsa with one hand on his partner and the other on a crutch. He is fantastic and a true example of someone who overcame an obstacle to make it happen. I believe it is within everyone to interpret and move to music. Not everyone can be a professional but dancing is dessert for the soul. You just have to be willing to work at it.

What is your favorite place to be in NYC?
It used to be Austin Street in Forest Hills where we would go after school to hang out and shop. Now it's the garment district where I go to hang out and shop. Some things never change but parking is a hassle.

What is your favorite shop?
Ooooooh not fair...For now I would say this little shop on 6th Ave between 35th and 36th called Meridian. They have such cute and sassy clothing.

What is your favorite drink?
To be honest I don't drink but give me a pina colada without the rum and I can pretend all night long.

What is your favorite restaurant?
That Sushi restaurant that takes up an entire city block. Forgot the name but a friend took me. There can never be enough sushi!!!

What is your favorite NYC book?
The Not For Tourists Guide to New York City. I like finding new restaurants, shops and things to do in the city.

What is your favorite thing to do in NYC that you can do nowhere else?
Broadway plays and musicals. They just aren't the same everywhere else. Maybe I'm a bit biased. Or maybe its the whole excitement of the area...and the fact that I have the company of my father or my best girl friends to go with me.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated about NYC?
Underrated: the thriving community of dancers and artists
Overrated: Ball dropping on new year's eve in time square. Most people from New York watch it on tv from their warm and comfy couch.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I'm completely addicted to the TV series Lost and 25 cent fudge brownies. Preferably both at the same time.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Readers can always email me at or

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