Today we’d like to introduce you to Daphne Lee.
Daphne, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m currently an arts advocate and ballet dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem in NYC. My mother fought with Multiple Myeloma Cancer and my father is a disabled 2-time war veteran living with Lewy Body dimentia. I am currently aiming to complete my MFA this year and have a scholarship in my named aimed at young women of color seeking to pursue performing arts careers in colleges and universities. I’m here because of the international culture and knowledge my parents instilled in me and the liberty to pursue and be supported in the arts.
I never thought I would be a professional dancer until I auditioned for Juilliard. My mother, a former dancer from London with Bajan/St. Lucian roots was my first dance teacher who taught me a diverse range of styles. On Sunday mornings, she always had the TV turned to a musical to watch performers. My father hails from Panama, where the first music I heard and danced to was Salsa and Panamanian folk dance. So music and dance was always apart of my life. Fast forward many years, I attended and graduated from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program and toured with Ailey II. I then freelanced for six months which landed my gigs with Beyonce and musical theatre. I then joined Lustig Dance Theatre, guested with Oakland Ballet, and completed three seasons with Collage Dance Collective. This is currently in the middle of my second season at Dance Theatre of Harlem, part of their 50th anniversary season.
As a member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, I’ve been chosen to continue the legacy of our trailblazing founder Arthur Mitchell. We are currently celebrating our 50th anniversary touring the country and having our New York season April 15-18th at New York City Center.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Has it been a smooth road? My biggest challenge was that I never really established a “road” for myself. I just plotted along life but then making decisions as doors opened or closed. If you wish to call me a ballerina, then no, my route was far from conventional since I never desired to do ballet professionally. I auditioned for every major summer ballet intensive, got accepted, and personally rejected it other than the Dance Theatre of Harlem school and The Ailey School. Why? I loved the challenge of ballet because it was something that could never be perfected and forces you to keep striving for more. That is how I was able to continue to pursue it. However, I simply knew how hard the route was to become an artist, and thought I should bypass the whole arts thing. Basically, I thought I sucked. Little did in know that it’s extremely possible to be a full-time artist and thriving.
I never really cared about the traditional and typical things dancers worry about like getting into a company and body image because again, I thought I would be a doctor. Someone saving lives and making money. Not professionally dancing in a country where the arts don’t hold substantial weight like other territories around the globe. I didn’t think arts had the power to heal like the medical profession until I matured and saw how it saved me plenty of times.
If you wish to call me an artist, then at this time, I have not reached my full potential. I often feel like very few people in addition to myself know of my strength, storytelling, and desire on stage. Yet, currently where I work, I find that my full potential isn’t reached or seen. That’s another convo for another day.
The obstacles and struggles continue to test you and see how bad you really want something. For me, it only makes the reward that much more gratifying.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I have my own scholarship for women of color because I’m very interested in seeing more educated, conscious artists in the world. I know that college isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be forced upon but I also recognize how majoring or minoring in an art form is essential and should be equivalent to pursuing a STEM degree. I eventually want to grow a non-profit called “Daphne’s Pointe” where there are scholarships but also a desire to connect and showcase artists, athletes and scientists alike.
The fact that you can study the dramatic arts, music, dance, and other fine arts in higher educational institutions speaks volumes. But again, I want the world to see what that does for humanity. The whole world is made up of art, thinkers, and creatives and they are necessary in every aspect of our lives and very being.
I am most proud of the fact that I have the ability to beat odds, inspire and influence others now more than ever yet remain humble. But what truly sets me apart is my ability to persist and see things differently. It’s my ability to take what I’ve learned at a modern institution and place it into my balletic connection. It may not always be seen but it’s felt from audience perspectives. I also find it important to share things, opportunities and connections. A lot of what was given to me was through recommendations as well.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
How do I define success? I look for the ability to remain calm, observe, focused, and the ability to finish a task before moving on to the next. Also, you have to know what your own success can look or feel like and not let others define that success for you.
Success can mean a lot of things like just being able to wake up and start each day with a grateful heart. Keeping positive thoughts throughout the day and getting to bed on time to do it all again. Success is also letting the universe take over your plans and understanding that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. (Whether you believe it or not). I think its about setting short term and long term goals for yourself and meeting the mark.
Success is knowing your mother passed away and father has his medical needs, and letting go of “being strong” but accepting vulnerability. Success is having challenges, accepting them, hating them, and praying through them. It’s a mental battle that is conquered through faith.
- Autographed pointe shoes $30
- Website: www.daphnemlee.com
- Phone: 732-977-5534
- Email: Daphmlee@gmail.com
- Instagram: Daphne732
- Facebook: Daphne Lee
- Twitter: Daph19lee
Manley Photography, Rachel Neville, Theik Smith, Ziggy Mack, Vandy Photography, Melika Dez, Portraits of Atl, Underground NYC, Filtered Focus