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Grad Student Celebrates Diversity by Launching Dance Company

April 18, 2012

Roger Lee

Drexel arts administration graduate student Roger Lee says he has seen Philadelphia, his hometown, at its “lowest of lows and highest of highs.”

So when he pursued his lifelong dream of launching his own dance company, Lee was conscious to create an organization that contributed in a positive way to the city.

“A major mission for me was to connect with Philadelphia,” Lee said. “I’ve lived here all my life, and right now, there’s so much violence going on in the city. I feel like Philadelphia needs some inspiration, and I think movement is a really easy way to connect people. It’s a unifying practice that can be used as a catalyst to inspire our community to come together.”

His vision—Roger Lee Dance Company—debuted this past weekend with performances on April 20 and 21, unveiling Lee’s thoughtfully curated team.

“A lot of times in dance, we ‘audition’ people, but I was looking to cast members that represented everyone,” Lee said, adding that it was important for him to have a multicultural, diverse cast. “We’re all in our 20s, and that was purposeful to show that young people can do some positives things in this city. They have done some negative things, and I want to take that back.”

Roger LeeLee began dancing at a young age, somewhat on a whim. When he was 12 years old, his mom saw a call for Fox 29’s Good Day Philadelphia’s dance team and suggested he audition.

“I could always move, but I didn’t consider myself a dancer,” Lee said.

But out of 300 hopefuls, Lee was chosen as one of the team’s final 12 members.

“Something ignited after that,” Lee said. “I knew I had to dance.”

As a student at Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, Lee learned to balance schoolwork, dance and the visual arts, which was his original course of study at the school.

“When I entered the dance program, I had primarily done hip-hop, so I had to play catch-up and learn ballet, jazz, African—it was really a crash course,” Lee said.

Lee went on to study dance at the Pennsylvania’s Governor’s School for the Arts, a five-week intensive program that Lee said solidified his love of the art form. After graduating, he double majored in dance and media studies at Ursinus College, where he became the director of the college’s student-run dance company.

“We had 50 students, majoring in everything from bio to dance,” Lee said. “With all of those personalities and different levels of experience, and after doing it for three years and not getting burnt out, I thought, maybe I could pursue this once I leave.”

His passion for managing—along with a stretching injury that made him question his career beyond dancing—led him to return to his hometown to study arts administration at Drexel.

“Studying administration at Drexel was really important to me, especially now [that I’m launching the company], because I constantly have to maintain the balance between administrator and artist,” Lee said. “The major difference is, as an artist, you really want to push the physical boundaries—how far we can take our bodies—but then from the administrative perspective, I’m asking how can we engage the audience with what we’re doing?”

“It’s very hard, as an artist, a choreographer or a director to step back,” Lee added. “In the heat of the moment, you’re loving it and the dancers are loving it, but you may well be the only ones loving it. You do need to connect with your audience on some level, and in our mission to connect with this city, that’s just as important as our artistry.”

Roger Lee Dance Company’s inaugural season kicks off with three performances. The first half of the evening opens with “Mind Games,” an energetic piece set to original music from local beat maker Danny Horowitz, followed by “Tell it to God,” a spirited tribute piece in honor of the late Whitney Houston.

Act two continues with a male duet, “The Groove,” followed by a trio, “And Then There Was 1.” The show comes to close with a piece called, “The Pulse,” a rhythmic ensemble piece Lee said will leave the audience feeling inspired.

Performances are on April 20 at 6 p.m. and on April 21 at 6 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine St. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at http://danceboxoffice.com. For more information, contact (215) 833-6961 or visit http://rogerleepr.com.