When you see a big performance put on by one of your favorite artists, part of what you don’t see is all the people behind the scenes that make these shows happen. From head to toe, it takes a team of different creatives providing different key pieces to make the show go on. One of the people entering the scene has come in and started her own wave, Fashionable dance shoe wear and all the top dancers and artists are loving it. Burju Perez the Massachuesetts local designer that changed the game and limits for dance wear fashion. I got to ask the genius woman behind this idea about her story and how she started making shoes for performers like Jlo and her dancers, Chicago Bulls dancers, and even Megan Thee Stallion just to name a few. Not to mention have collaborations come out with some of the best dancers and choreographers in the game like Nicole Kirkland and Kiira Harper.
I remember the first time I met Burju Perez at a congress in Vermont, Nixmotion, to see some of my friends perform and take some classes. It was my first bachata congress and I was so excited but my shoes I brought with me were terrible. My friend told me I was in luck because Burju was there selling shoes and dance wear at the congress and she was the best. I went up to her booth and she had it all, from lace up booties, to glamorous stilettos, and sexy thigh highs, in so many colors and styles. She was so lovely and helped me find the perfect pair and spent a lot of time with me telling me about all her designs, all the thought she put into not only the style but the engineering of the shoes. She clearly cared about her work helping dancers and making us feel good. She told me if I had any issues with the shoes to contact her and she would fix them or anything I needed to have the best experience and on top of all that she gave me an amazing deal. I still have those gorgeous snake print lace up stiletto heels to this day, and most dancers I know have their own pair and personal favorite style in the Latin dance scene. Some of the OGs even have their own pair named after them like the beautiful Alemana and many competing dancers swear by them, so it only makes sense that some of the greatest performers putting on the biggest shows would want these.
“It started from a personal desire to have dance shoes look like fashion shoes or fashion shoes to feel like dance shoes.” Burju tells me “As a professional Salsa dancer for 15 years I wore my ballroom dance shoes for performances, training and teaching. But for social dancing I wanted to express my style and have fun, colorful heels. But anything that is fashionable certainly didn’t feel good to wear, especially for dancing.” Then she took action “I started taking my ballroom dance shoes and DIY customizing them by painting, dying, gluing and embellishing them to create something more fashionable. Pretty soon I had my dance company and students asking me to do the same for them.” and the idea turned into a business.
She continued to invest in her business and take it to her dance school and students. She was reselling for popular brands that made good ballroom shoes, but offering customization services on the side which became popular fast. One of the brands even would let her choose colors and fabrics but she still wanted more and to take her ideas further. The thing was, what she could do was limited by the styles, which were very traditional and she started to realize by 2010 that she needed to start her own brand and found a factory that would bring her designs to life, a very big and brave step that paid off. She came up with 5 designs inspired by fashion she loved, functions, and comforts she knew a dancer would appreciate, then invested $5000 to send off to the factory unsure of what she would receive. 8 weeks of nervously waiting later she received her first batch. Once she had some designs made into shoes she started to wear them out herself and giving pairs to dancers she knew were performing and competing, then got more and started expanding to celebrity stylists, and anyone who could help her spread the word. She took every opportunity to get Burju on everyone’s feet and make everyone look and feel good in their Burjus. It didn’t take long before they could be seen in multiple dance scenes on every level.
I asked Burju what has been the hardest part so far:
“ I think the biggest one to date was definitely in 2020 when the pandemic hit. I had just started building a community in the Heels dance market but our main source of revenue was still the Latin Dance Market. When the world shut down and there were no more dance festivals, that part of our revenue completely disappeared. The Heels community was also affected as everyone was faced with so much uncertainty. Dance classes were shut down. Concerts and performances canceled. Dance heels were definitely not something people were needing or even thinking about. We went several days without a single sale and others where we only had a couple. It was scary. I was afraid and unsure if our business would recover. To avoid laying anyone off I stopped taking a salary. I started looking for a job. I was trying to find ways to continue to engage with dancers and support them in uncertain times. When dance instructors started doing free live classes on social media I tried to help by spreading the word and giving out gift cards.“
Even through hardships none of us saw coming like the pandemic and the struggles that faced many creatives, she kept working and creating opportunities for the community. “Little by little people started adjusting to this new “norm”. Eventually what I think really turned things around is when we launched the collaboration collection with Kiira Harper that July. It was like a breakthrough for our brand into the Heels community because Kiira was such a respected, trusted and professional instructor. Heels dancers were willing to listen to Kiira when she said that dancers need the right heels to train in.” Burju explains. “ I’m so grateful for that partnership and all the others current and coming up.” Burju tells us. Meg Thee Stallion herself can be seen rocking this collection! The shoe called Another Moment from the Kiira Harper All Black Everything collection can be seen giving her famous knees the support they need on stage.
Inspired by her love for fashion, her creative minded children, and the dancers around her she continues to dance and create amazing creations for us to dance our dreams. She tells fellow dancers “Train and keep training. There is always a new style or technique that you can learn. Growth happens when you are uncomfortable.If you love to dance just do it regardless of age, skill level, or anything else.” and to all the creatives out there.
Make sure to check out her amazing collections and fashions at https://www.burjushoes.com and scoop up some of her shoes! In any style from her personal favorites the thigh highs, or any of her current or coming soon collaborations, new styles for all dances including pole work, even her growing everyday wear work to bridal styles! This brand is already becoming a household name and a shoe many dancers rely on. A true woman innovator and queen of her own wave! I feel so blessed to have had a chance to ask her some questions and learn how greatness is truly accomplished with passion and drive.