Roger Lee choreographing a moving experience

A former Bella Vista inhabitant will helm his eponymous dance company’s Black History Month concert.

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.

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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.” 

For more in­form­a­tion, call 215-833-6961, or vis­it dance­box­of­fice.com or ro­ger­leedance.com.

Con­tact Man­aging Ed­it­or Joseph My­ers at jmy­ers@south­phil­lyre­view.com or ext. 124.


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You can reach at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.