Name: Daphne Lee │ Age: 26 │ Hometown: Rahway, NJ
Daphne Lee is a professional ballet dancer with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis TN. The talented dancer is also the reigning Miss Black USA, and a graduate student at Hollins University. Daphne is the Goodwill Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone as well.
Melony: How has life changed for you since being crowned Miss Black USA?
Daphne: I’ve been doing everything that a Miss Black USA has been doing before I was crowned. I am a spokesperson for the organization and represent black women, their attributes, beauty, intelligence and creativity. Also, as Miss Black USA, I have a wider platform to reach more youth. I’ve gotten to indulge in the many prizes from the Miss Black USA team.
Melony: How would you describe that winning moment when you heard your name announced as the winner of the Miss Black USA Pageant?
Daphne: Immediately I thought “JERSEY, I DID IT”. The organization has never had a New Jersey girl win the title of Miss Black USA in the organization’s 30-year history. I was excited and super grateful of the support I received from all over the world. From London, to the Caribbean, friends and family were rooting for me and watched the competition. My phone blew up and it took me a couple weeks to say my thank you. I was just elated.
Melony: What I loved about you most and is probably the reason I connected with your image so much, was that you portrayed the image of a natural Black woman. I embraced your pride in your natural appearance without much enhancement. What inspired you to go natural in a pageant arena, where usually women highly embellish themselves where possible?
Daphne: In pageantry, you are presenting yourself in the best way possible, and I did have some enhancements. I got lashes installed and well as faux goddess locs for my pageant look. Its more about showcasing to the world that black women can rock as many styles as possible from afros to twists and still be beautiful. Once we change the norm of what defines beauty, then we can expect to see a broad range of natural beauty looks, especially in pageantry.
Melony: Do you consider yourself a role model? Why or why not?
Daphne: As a professional ballerina with Collage Dance Collective, there are over 200+ students at the conservatory. I know that with myself along with my co-workers, we influence the next generation of dreamers and do-ers. With every area of my life, people are watching and I hope to inspire that growth along with any organization or brand I’m a part of.
Melony: In October, you’re traveling to Albany, New York to perform with the Collage Dance Collective. Can you tell readers about your performance and what to expect?
Daphne: Yes, Collage is going to Albany and we have an amazing show coming up. There will be five pieces being performed including choreography by Arturo Fernandez, Joshua Manculich and Nicolo Fonte. Each piece is unique and shows off the strength of the company. It’s going to be at The Egg and should run 1.5 hours total. It’s only one show so be sure to support Collage.
Melony: For those who don’t already know about your amazing dance ability, can you give us a brief overview of your dance training?
Daphne: I was trained by my mother at the Rahway Dance Theatre in Rahway NJ. I trained in all styles from Ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, modern, and lyrical. I did everything, but dance was more recreational for me when I was younger. Even as a student, I performed at local churches, the Apollo Theater in NYC, Scotland, the Copacabana, McDonald’s Gospelfest, and various schools across the state of New Jersey.
I had no idea that all of these things were preparing me for what was to come. My mother spent so much time and effort to share the gift of dance, passing down her knowledge. Because of her efforts, I am still so grateful for what she provided for many young girls and boys throughout the community. Who would have thought that I would become a professional dancer.
Melony: I was excited to see that in December, you’re performing in the Nutcracker alongside the Flint Youth Ballet, how did that project come about? What are you looking forward to most about this performance?
Daphne: That project was developed with the collaboration with Collage Dance and the Flint Youth Ballet. Its amazing to have the partnership and is such a beautiful Nutcracker. I look forward to working and sharing the stage with the students as well as engaging with the production crew. Everyone makes the magic happen and the audience loves it year after year. We are traditionally sold out for that entire weekend.
Melony: What other projects do you have going on right now or coming up, that people should be aware of?
Daphne: Right now, I just finished attending the National Black College queens pageant in Atlanta and will be in New Jersey and New York doing more appearances. I have two major shoots with Nudebarre and Gaynor Minden and shooting for a promo video for a music artist. At the same time, I will be working on my grad school papers, applying for grants and scholarships, and preparing for our fall show for Collage here in Memphis TN. So much is going on and I love it and I balance it out by relaxing with family, friends and my Scottish terrier Lennox.
Melony: As accomplished and busy as you are, somehow you find time to attend college. Where are you studying and what are you majoring in?
Daphne: I always wanted a masters degree and the program I am in works for me. I am attending Hollins University (Roanoke, VA) to obtain my Masters of Fine Arts degree in Dance. I received a fellowship for the program and classes are held in the summer for about eight weeks. We spend about five weeks on campus and then three weeks in Frankfurt Germany with the University of Music and Performing Arts.
I want to use my degree to focus on more arts administration in a university setting and to see how I can assist dance students transforming into professional dancers. There is so much more you can learn about a subject in the field I am already apart of and I want to extend that knowledge. I’m learning how to use my voice as an artist to assist in changing the world and it’s views through art.
Melony: How can people follow your work and performances or contact you about bookings? For booking me as Miss Black USA, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To stay up to date on my pageant journey, follow Miss Black USA on Facebook and Instagram @missblackusa.