Roger Lee laments that contemporary chronicling of African-American lives often labors to locate much positivity. Hopeful that prosperous accounts from the past will promote pride, the former Bella Vista dweller and members of his eponymous dance company will offer their second annual Black History Celebration Concert Series tomorrow and Friday.
“It’s easy to become caught up in technicalities, the anger and the frustration of recent events,” the 26-year-old said at the Philly Performance Art Center for Kids, 729 S. Fourth St., for whom he serves as an instructor and assistant director. “Even the overall history has ugly aspects, too, but I want to focus on the celebratory side because there’s strength to gain from that.”
The discerning dancer and his peers will laud the annals of their ancestors with a two-act, Performance Garage-situated look at themes such as the black church, freedom, integration and urban culture. Set to handle the second half of the production, Lee is looking forward to mixing elements of his repertoire to present the present as more than just the successor to distant days.
“Members of the African-American community want material that has a connection to their lives and cultural experiences,” the overseer said of engineering his effort, which draws inspiration from his Drexel University-based graduate school research into forging connections between current times and the past. “I’ve always been enthused about such links, so I definitely desired to give people something to help their realizations.”
Lee is using a fusion of contemporary, hip-hop, jazz and praise dance for his presentation, a decision that displays his love for having figurative colors as components of his endeavor. He has long worked with literal hues, having enjoyed a childhood stint at Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St., so he loves how his first attraction has influenced the growth of his present passion.
“I love variety and see it as a way to create balance with an audience,” Lee said of cementing the feeling that he and his colleagues are indeed sating patrons’ cravings for relevant and reverent creations. “We definitely want to commend predecessors, but we also need to encourage viewers to revel in the present.”
Two months shy of marking Roger Lee Dance, LLC’s third birthday, the entity’s namesake believes the upcoming offerings will prove dynamic and delightful, noting his joy over including a piece by Albertina Walker, the Queen of Gospel Music. Feeling fortunate to position himself as a leading figure in aiding Philadelphia’s dance evolution, he especially exudes gratitude that “the cold, hard world” that he foresaw encountering once he earned his master’s has become a warm and welcoming expanse.
“I just want to keep coming up with honest ideas because I’ve always been a very real person,” Lee said. “When I consider what I’ve experienced, I see everything as a blessing.”
The grateful individual had initially felt his windfall would come through painting. Through the encouragement of his mother, Ruth, he sought and acquired placement on the FOX 29 Good Day Philadelphia Dance Team, obtaining co-captaincy, establishing tremendous relationships and expanding his perception of his artistic capabilities.
“I really believed painting and illustrating were my callings,” Lee said, noting interest in Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo. “I haven’t lost my art love, though; it’s just that dance, particularly the teaching of it, has become such a powerful force for me.”
As a registrant at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, 901 S. Broad St., he intensified his pull toward proving his limbs’ proficiency, also gaining admittance into the Governor’s School for the Arts. Enamored with writing, too, notably journalism, having enjoyed a pair of internships, he chose media and communications studies as a complementary major to dance at Ursinus College. Fairly secure in his comprehension of the physical demands of dancing, he returned to Philadelphia to gain knowledge of the business aspects of his vocation, with Drexel heightening his regard.
“My time there confirmed that dance would be it for me,” Lee said. “It’s what God put in my heart, so I wanted to thrive.”
Desiring “an adventurous life,” the ardent artist will likely make a biographer quite happy decades from now, as he has aligned himself with recording stars such a Ruben Studdard and Vicki Winans, performed for Vice President Joe Biden and taught for his alma mater, the Broadway Dance Center, Koresh Dance Co., the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts and The Rock School for Dance Education, 1101 S. Broad St., among others. He has also joined the collegiate ranks, having taught last semester within Temple University’s Dance Department and this year initiated a relationship with Eastern University through its Urban Studies Graduate Program.
“Teaching has taken over my life, and I don’t mind that,” Lee said, adding he considers himself immensely blessed to instruct vibrant youngsters at Philly PACK. “I want to help students to have a healthy supply of know-how for when they go after their dreams.”
He has used his time at Philly PACK to develop a cherished creative bond with director Jessica Noel, and he and the Pennsport resident have looked to foster fortitude among their artistic peers by planning the inaugural Philadelphia Arts and Entrepreneurship Festival.
“I see that as another way to keep in contact with tons of talented people and to meet even more dedicated folks,” Lee, the founder and executive director of the initiative, which he hopes to debut next year, said. “I want everyone to leave knowing more about this business. It’s been my experience that there are plenty of people with good ideas, so uniting them really appeals to me.”
Lee also finds his personal projects captivating, including involvement with two March events, the Dancing for Our Future Stars gala for the Independence Mission Schools and inclusion in the Chicago-situated TEDx conference.
“I want to keep going,” he said of his goals. “The spirit is definitely moving me.”
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