Dancing Through Life: Meet Youran Lee

You’ve probably seen her in NYU’s Welcome Week video, teaching dance classes all over the city or choreographing for several groups on campus. Dancing for most of her life, Youran Lee has built a name for herself in the dance community. We sat down to chat with Lee to learn about the ups and downs in her journey.

Name: Youran Lee

Major: Applied Psychology with a minor in Sociology

Year: 2018

Hometown: San Diego, California

HC NYU: Tell us about your dance background/history. How did you get into dance and when did you start?

YL: I started dancing at the age of 9. I always say that I feel like I was meant to be a dancer because I became interested in it for no real reason. I had an orthodontist that I went to, and there was a big dance studio right next to his office, so I just told my mom to take me there—to this day, I have no idea why I did that.

I started off with jazz and tap, then ventured into training in ballet, contemporary, modern, and hip hop. My hip hop teacher in middle school, KJ Gonzales, is basically a San Diego dance legend, and he really influenced the way I viewed dance. Though I was shy and insecure, he helped me to find confidence in myself by calling me out to do groups and making me stand in the front of class. He became my mentor for about 5 years, until my sophomore year of high school, when I decided I would focus my training on hip hop and venture out to other teachers.

HC NYU: And what was that venture into hip hop like?

YL: I joined a team called Syde FX, and 2 years later, joined iLL Habits. Through iLL Habits, I experienced an undefeated season—yet, I was unhappy. I was always placed in the back, ignored by my directors, and on one of the seasons, I was casted in only 1 out of 5 of the pieces in our set. Because of this, my self-confidence was at an all time low, and I considered quitting the team many times.

I also auditioned for my high school’s official dance team 3 times, and did not ever get in. By my senior year, I found out there were a lot of complications with discrimination and things like that, but it took a very big toll on my self-esteem. I continuously asked myself why I wasn’t good enough, when I had been dancing for so many years. However, instead of letting the sadness get to me, I decided to create my own opportunity—I, along with 3 friends, created a co-ed hip hop dance team at my high school called Modern Identity. Though the start was rough, such as trying to get the school to recognize us and allow us to perform, we eventually found our way, and even competed at one of the largest competitions in San Diego. The team still exists to this day.

HC NYU: What has your dance journey at NYU looked like?

YL: When I came to NYU, I had to start completely fresh. I auditioned for a team called The Neighbors through an online audition over the summer, and was surprised to have been accepted. That’s when my dance career really started to take off. I made choreography for a competition set for the first time, I taught my first workshop, and people started to recognize me as a dancer in the community. I could physically see that people believed in me, so I started to believe in myself. I began to be more proactive about finding opportunities, and that is what led me to accomplishing all that I have as a dancer today. It was definitely not an easy or short road, and I feel that my journey has only just begun.

HC NYU: Are you a part of any dance groups at NYU, and if you are, could you explain a little more about them?

YL: I’m part of a group on campus called Pulse Dance Project! It is a student-run company that puts on a showcase every semester. We primarily do contemporary, jazz, and hip hop, but our members are often train in other styles. Rehearsals usually take place in studios on campus, such as Kimmel or Third North.

I auditioned for it my first semester at NYU, and although I haven’t been able to participate every semester because of my schedule, I try to stay involved by staying in contact with the e-board, and choreographing for their shows when I can. Once you’re in Pulse, you’re in forever, so it really feels like a family.

Outside of NYU, I danced for an NYC team called The Neighbors for about 3 years, and was an Artistic Director for 2 of those years. I decided to leave the team this May to pursue dance in different ways.

HC NYU: How did you get started teaching at House of Movement, and when did you transition from dancing to also choreographing?

YL: The first time I taught at HoM was actually by complete chance. My friend was supposed to teach, but he injured his back, and asked me to cover for him. A few days later, the CMO of HoM (who also happens to be my teammate on the Neighbors) reached out to me about subbing more classes. And just a month after I taught my first class, I was given a bi-weekly class slot. I was super honored, but I knew that this was only temporary—until 3 months later, when I was offered the permanent Monday night Intermediate class slot. It was a huge accomplishment for me, as I had never expected to be received so positively as a young teacher.

HC NYU: A lot of students probably saw you dancing in the Welcome Week video! Was that the largest group you have choreographed for, and could you describe the process of choreographing and teaching it?

YL: That was definitely the largest group I have ever choreographed for, with over 350+ Welcome Week Leaders, Commuter Assistants, Transfer Assistants, and Pro staff! The idea was first produced by my bosses at the Center for Student Life, Isabella Villacampa and Zach Harrell. The Welcome Week Staff traditionally do a very simple “Hype Video” each year to welcome the new students, but this year, Isabella and Zach told me to think of a way to create a dance video incorporating everyone on the staff. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. We threw around a lot of complicated ideas, until we finally decided that something simple would be best—groups of choreography featuring Welcome Week Leaders that were more advanced dancers, and then one large shot with everyone doing simple choreography. I was very impressed at the pace that the dancers picked up the choreography—In under 2 hours, I was able to teach, set formations, and practice blocking in WSP! As for teaching the group of 350+, I was given 20 minutes during Welcome Week Leader Training to teach everyone on the 10th floor of Kimmel. It was definitely not easy, with hundreds of people speaking over one another, but we were able to finish within the 20 minutes. It was surreal seeing so many people do my choreography in one space, and hearing feedback about so many people enjoying learning to dance. Because of everyone’s cooperation, and the Media Team Captain, Jackson Tisi’s filming, we were able to finish filming the entire video in just 2 takes.


HC NYU: How has dance impacted your life?

YL: It used to just be a hobby that I enjoyed doing, but after I moved to New York, it literally became a part of my identity. It’s what makes me sad, frustrated, and angry, but also so inexplicably happy and accomplished. My relationship with dance has definitely been up and down, but it’s been there for me through the good and bad, and has led me to some of the best friends I have ever had. Growing up, I never had the confidence to pursue dance further than just joining teams or taking classes, particularly because I was raised in a traditionally Asian family that very much looked down on careers in the arts. But life has proven to me that hard work does not go unnoticed, and there is a possibility of a future where I could dance as a career. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that I was brought to that dance studio by my orthodontist’s office for a reason.

HC NYU: Any new projects coming up or things you hope to do in the future?

YL: This summer, I was invited to join a company called SHINSA The Collective, a dance team composed of all strong females who are currently in or pursuing to be in the professional dance industry. It is led by Bo Park, a dancer I have admired for many years. I took part in her video projects this summer, and in the fall, we will be preparing to compete at World of Dance New York. It’s super exciting to think of the opportunities this team will bring me.

In the near future, I hope to find more opportunities to teach classes at larger NYC studios such as Peridance or Brickhouse. A more long-term dream of mine is to be able to choreograph for music artists or large-scale shows such as musicals.

Quick Questions:

Any embarrassing stories?

YL: I’m really short (4’11”) and I was walking directly into a couple that were both at least 6 feet tall. Instead of going around me, they just swung their arms, and I walked right in between their hands by accident. We were all really confused and I ran away.

Favorite place to eat in the city?

YL: Olive Chicken in Ktown! It has cheap pre-made bowls of Korean Fried Chicken out at all hours, and the space is really big, so it’s a good hangout spot for large groups.

Pet peeve?

YL: Fruit touching salty things. AKA pineapples on pizza.

If you were an animal what animal would you be?

Sloths. I take naps almost everyday, and if I had the time, I could probably sleep through an entire day.

Favorite class you’ve taken at NYU?

YL: I loved taking ASL! My instructor was Deaf and really taught us about Deaf culture rather than just the language. I wish I had more room in my schedule to continue taking it, but the one semester I had of it was incredible, and it’s even been useful for me at my job.

Follow Youran on social media!

Facebook: facebook.com/Youran.lee.3

Instagram: @youran_lee

Twitter: @yl2790

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl8hBW7H15abbq8kaMjm0Wg