Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Daphne Lee: How I got here

Daphne Lee Year one

Photo by Carla McDonald.

I’m Daphne Lee, a professional dancer with Collage Dance Collective, living here in Memphis.

Me by Ziggy Mack.

Why is this unique? Well, you see, I’m from Jersey and New York City is in my backyard. Relocating to Memphis as a professional dancer is not what most artists do. We tend to escape our small towns to flock to NYC, LA, or Atlanta to find work or to train. But yes, I did the reverse.

My mother was a dancer and I kind of got into dancing simply from being bored and grew tired of watching my mother teach dance classes. Dancing was simply a hobby for me as I was a cheerleader, played the violin, was on varsity tennis, and even did musical theatre. Even though I danced for the majority of my life, I had no intention of becoming a professional dancer. That being said, eighteen years later I decided to audition for Juilliard as a joke just to see how far I would get in the audition. I knew the dance world was tough but still wanted to see if I had a chance. Out of 150 hopefuls vying for a spot in the major arts school, I made it to the very end with just six of us standing. It was then, the lightbulb went off.

But I never thought I would make Memphis a “home.”  When I was younger and thought of Memphis, Elvis came into mind. I’m sorry, but that’s what we were taught up north along with blues music. Fast forward to college days at Fordham University, I got into Ailey II which is a junior company to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. While performing in Memphis, my director introduced me to Kevin Thomas, and Marcellus Harper, directors of Collage Dance. They agreed to keep in touch with me to work with them in the future. Once I saw they were doing contemporary ballet, I thought about how I could return to wearing pointe shoes again versus modern/contemporary dance. Once Ailey II was finished, I went on to freelance in the dance industry including working for Beyonce in her opening tour video. That’s what NYC is known for. The term is “getting booked.” I guested with Collage Dance during my freelancing stage and next thing I knew they were hiring full-time. Of course I was nervous because I thought, “Opportunities to be in NYC and freelance? Or job security with a contract in Memphis?”

Two suitcases, a backpack, and nowhere to live, I had landed in Memphis. I only knew 3 people: my two bosses and a guy named Ziggy Mack, who I found out was practically “famous” in Memphis for his photography and vibrant personality (someone on Facebook recommended him to shoot with him). Why did I move? Well, jobs at the time were scarce and I had no reason not to move. I also wanted the security of a contract and a stable paycheck. I’m young, free, and was single at the time so there was nothing holding me back.

Stay tuned to me currently living here, and what I REALLY think of Memphis.