Title: Miss Black New Jersey 2017
Career: Classically Trained Dancer
Daphne graduated with Honors from the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A program in dance and is a recipient of the Denise Jefferson Scholarship award. Ms. Lee received scholarships to Jacobs Pillow, School of American Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and is a regional gold medal recipient in dance for the NAACP ACT-SO competition.
Sapphire: You are incredible. Black ballerinas were nearly invisible in the public eye until recently. It is awe inspiring to watch you move and work with young girls. At what age did you know that ballet was for you? Were you encouraged by family and friends to chase your dream?
Daphne Lee: Its funny because I started dancing at the age of 3 but had no intention to become a professional dancer until the age 18 when I was applying for college. So I didn’t know ballet or dance was for me until late. I took up dancing as a hobby because my mother would teach classes, and I would eventually join in. After my grandmother passed away when I was 7 years old from Colon cancer, I thought the greatest gift in the world was to heal, and heal through medicine. As I got older, many doctors and dance instructors told me to dance because you can always become a doctor, but can’t always become a dancer. After enrolling in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, the rest was history.
Sapphire: What was it like to study in the world-renowned Alvin Ailey dance program and later dance in one of the very exclusive Ailey dance companies?
Daphne Lee: I was so honored to be a part of Ailey II, the junior company to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I was given the opportunity to not only perform in 60 cities across the USA and 7 countries, but do outreach performances and teach master classes at various universities. Ailey gave me the ability to be in a professional environment, work among some of my dance idols, and travel extensively. It really grew my artistry, professionalism, and the chance to perform some of Alvin Ailey’s iconic roles in his ballet “Revelations”.
Sapphire: You are currently the reigning Miss Black New Jersey USA, how has winning the title changed your life or career?
Daphne Lee: Unfortunately, New Jersey no longer has a pageant but I still had to apply and be a stand out of 49 applicants. Earning the title opened doors to being more involved in my community. I got the opportunity to speak to over 1500 students throughout various schools in New Jersey. I shared my platform of Multiple Myeloma Cancer Awareness and other educational lessons including career readiness and the ABC’s of Beauty for girls and young women. I even got the opportunity to perform in other states and connect with many of the queens; developing a relationship to bond and network. But it’s not going to stop here because I plan on making my state proud by being the first to win the title of Miss Black USA 2017 for New Jersey.
Sapphire: I was extremely encouraged when I saw that you were Miss Black New Jersey because you’re a natural beauty. Seeing a darker skin, Black beauty queen who looks like me, not plastically enhanced or with bone straight hair and natural makeup, makes me feel my beauty is accepted. Thank you. What made you decided to enter the pageant? Did you think you had a real chance at winning?
Daphne Lee: I decided to enter the pageant because the Miss Black USA pageant system has been for the past 20 years to help women of color through scholarship. Around 80% of the current reigning queens are attaining their master’s degree or in Law school. We even have one queen that is a Lawyer. This pageant has proven to support women of color, and provides a platform for women like me to share my story and my gifts to the world. Also, I cannot wait to continue to establish great bonds with this pageant community. I have a lot offer, being an Afro-Latina, first generation American, and a professional ballerina makes me different from other queens to begin with. I have such a need to give back to my community, share my artistry, and inspire the next generation of people to present their best selves. With this being said, I know I have a chance of winning the national title of Miss Black USA.
Sapphire: What has been the most beneficial things that has come from your being crowned Miss Black New Jersey?
Daphne Lee: One of the most beneficial things that came with this reign is the ongoing support from friends and family. In order to prepare for nationals, I opened a GoFundMe account and just saw how many people wanted to support my journey to becoming the next Miss Black USA. The opportunities were endless to give back through mentoring and education through the arts. These are things I have been doing without the crown and sash, but having them created a number of proud Jersey-ites to know someone who is making a difference locally, nationally, and internationally.
Sapphire: Girl! Your work has been seen so many places, Oxygen, BET, MTV and you’ve even been seen in a Beyonce project. How exciting was it to be a dancer in Beyoncé’s “Mrs. Carter” tour opening video?
Daphne Lee: It was my day off, and I got a call from a friend about a side gig. I had no idea that I would be working for Beyonce until Tina Knowles came out and handed our costumes to us. Meeting with all these other dancers and recognizing many of Beyoncé’s dancers, I knew I was in for an opportunity of a life time. It was great to see Beyonce in her element as an artist, but to also see her as a mother too, as Blue Ivy ran around the set. I hope to reunite with her and other artists in the future.
Sapphire: To many Black dancers, working with Misty Copeland would be a dream. What was it like being a part of that project for Oxygen?
Daphne Lee: Being in New York City, I often see Misty as well as take class with her at Steps on Broadway. Having the opportunity to be a part of her project gave me the ability for her to get to know me and hear my story. The project involved other professional dancers who had specific goals, and Misty was going to help us to achieve them. There were man cameras, and lots of interviews, but was so happy I got to be seen. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by such artists as Misty, and I find myself running into her more often.
Sapphire: How do you keep your body in such shape? Do you have a specific diet or workout routine?
Daphne Lee: I keep my body in shape by not only rehearsing Monday thru Friday from 9am-5pm, but by supplementing my body with the right foods. Yes, every Chick-fil-A is tempting or Krispy Kreme donuts but it’s about what I put or do not put into my body. I eat tons of green, veggies, lentils, quinoa, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Very little meat or dairy and I try to avoid gluten. I come from a Latin and Caribbean background so the oxtails and empanadas are hard to resist from time to time. I also take part in hot Pilates and reformer Pilates.
Sapphire: What advice would you give to a little Black girl who wants to be a ballerina when she grows up?
Daphne Lee: The advice I have for young dancers is continue to do research. Create a vision board of things you want to achieve. Go and watch performances and study every dance genre but be a master of one. Don’t just watch dance or read dance magazines but focus on other black entertainers, doctors, bloggers, lawyers, construction workers. Study black women who have succeed, who have failed, and who are still trying to find their way. Be You and be unique. Look at their stories of adversity and know that you cannot get anywhere without obstacles. Lastly, enjoy the journey.
Sapphire: How can people book you to speak at events, dance or judge an event?
Daphne Lee: Yes, I am easy to reach via social media but my website is best for booking me for events, photoshoots, interviews, performances, hosting events and more. Everyone should check out www.daphnemlee.com in the contact section to send me a message. My Instagram is Daphne732 and Missblacknewjersey17.