‘Dance is the passion of my life’: MFA graduate finds healing, connection in ASU dance program


Photo of Tanya Dimitrov

In 2017, Bulgaria native Tanya Dimitrov co-founded Tupan Bie, an annual classic Bulgarian folklore festival in Phoenix that celebrates Bulgarian traditions and customs and educates participants about Bulgarian dance, music and verbal art. Photo by Holly Smith

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

When Tanya Dimitrov came to the United States in 2016, she was researching what possibilities were available to her. She already had an extensive background in dance. She started dancing at age 6 at the cultural center in her village in Petarch, Bulgaria. She said she always knew dance was the only thing that she wanted to do with her life. After grade school, Dimitrov danced with professional dance companies and pursued higher education in Bulgaria.

“I never imagined doing anything else,” she said.

Dimitrov experienced an injury during her professional career that forced her to look at new ways of moving and connecting through dance. She said she realized during her education in the dance program at Arizona State University that she had been using somatics to help her body heal.

“I was able to heal myself because dance is the passion of my life,” Dimitrov. “I was able to move forward and achieve healing.”

Dimitrov said she came to ASU because she was looking for new creative learning opportunities. She’s graduating in May with an Master of Fine Arts in dance and an master's degree in creative enterprise and cultural leadership. 

“I am happy that I came here,” Dimitrov said. “There are always new things to learn. No one knows everything.”

Dimitrov has contributed to both the ASU dance program and the larger Phoenix dance community. In 2017, she co-founded Tupan Bie, an annual classic Bulgarian folklore festival that celebrates Bulgarian traditions and customs and educates participants about Bulgarian dance, music and verbal art.  

Her applied project involved a large-scale collaborative choreography that explored various cultural dance forms through a somatic lens. The project involved 22 ASU dancers, six professional Bulgarian folk dancers from her company Balkanik, professional musicians from Bulgaria and Turkey as well as ASU percussionist Sonja Branch. While at ASU, Dimitrov shared elements of her project in two co-presented conference presentations for the National Dance Education Organization and World Dance Alliance. 

“Tanya has been a dedicated, industrious student with a charismatic personality and a huge passion for fostering the continuation and furtherance of cultural knowledge,” said Becky Dyer, associate professor of dance. 

Dimitrov shared more about her academic journey.

Question: What is an interesting moment or accomplishment during your time at ASU?

Answer: My biggest accomplishment at ASU was my applied project concert because I tried to bring all my interests into the same place, to work with diverse artists, and it was so successful. I brought professionals and non-professionals into the same space. I worked with musicians and composers outside of the United States, and I only had 10 weeks. I challenged myself, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. The feedback I received from my dancers and professors was really positive. It was so emotional, it was so powerful, it was so engaging. I had my defense last week, and it is still so emotional.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I became more familiar with somatic practice and somatics in general. I wasn’t aware of using somatic approaches in my teaching and in my pedagogy, but after learning more about somatics I realized this is something that is interesting to me. I was using it but without knowing it. Somatics is the connection between your inner self, your soul, your emotions, with your body movement and explorations. If you experience trauma, there are different somatic approaches to heal yourself and connect with other people. For an artist, it hurts your soul, because when you experience physical trauma and you’re not able to dance, to do what you love to do, it hurts so badly. It takes time to heal your mind and your body as well. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I can’t point to just one professor. Becky Dyer, Liz Lerman, Naomi Jackson, Johanna Taylor, Karen Schupp, Carolyn Koch, Adair Landborn, Carley Conder, John Mitchell, Robert Kaplan, LaTasha Barnes, Jorge Magana, David Olarte, Mary Fitzgerald. All of them! I learned from each of the professors. In my cohort, everyone was so open. We knew why we were here. A master’s program is not because you have to go; you go because you’re open and you want to learn. You’re open to learning new things. You explore and then you understand why.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Be open to learning. If you don’t understand something right away, it doesn’t mean it won’t be useful for you in the future. And get enough sleep.

Q: What was your favorite place on campus?

A: The rehearsal space. My first year was online, it was Zoom, so it was nice to get to rehearse in person.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to continue to pass on my knowledge to students who hold the same passion as me for dance. I also would like to keep exploring, to build community well-being and provide awareness and education about the Balkan culture and heritage.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Food and water are some of the biggest problems that humanity has. Especially becoming a mother, my world changed and my worldview changed on a lot of things. The first thing that came to mind was children who don’t have enough. 

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