Young Lee’s Need to Dance

Young Lee’s Need to Dance

Young Lee, finance and grants management specialist, has been at Stanford Prevention Research Center (SPRC) for two and half years now. Her current job focuses on finance, including the management of grants and contracts for SPRC. She’s been at Stanford since 2000, when she moved to California from the east coast. She’s a kind, warm person and an excellent employee, but this article is about something else: her dancing.

Because Young Lee leads a double life: Stanford employee by (week)day and competitive ballroom dancer by night (or, at the very least, evenings and weekends). In fact, she competed six times in the nine months between September 2021 and June 2022, and she won her last two competitions. Her division, among many others, is very proud of her. We spoke with Lee about her background in dancing and all the gritty details of training and competing.

What is your current role at Stanford?

I’ve been a financial analyst for SPRC for more than two years. Before that, I worked at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies for many years.

How long have you been interested in dance?

My body was always moving whenever I listened to music. I don’t have a dance background but was kind of athletic. I started dancing when I became single not long after I came to California. We have to do something when we’re alone, right?

When did you get more serious about dancing?

I was a social dancer for many years while taking some group and private lessons. But when the pandemic started, that was another turnaround in my life. I was working from home and alone most of the time. I started dancing more and started training to compete with my current teacher, who was a successful professional dancer. Now I’m a more serious dancer than I ever was. I’m focused and motivated; I want to get better and better. Dancing is a demanding activity. To dance well, we have to be physically strong, fit, and flexible, and be able to connect with a partner.

How did you meet your teacher and start doing competitions?

I started going to the Starlight Ballroom Studio in San Jose about six years ago, and that’s where I met my current teacher, who used to compete as a professional. He trains me in standard ballroom dances, which include waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, and Viennese waltz. My first competition was in September 2021.

What’s your training schedule like?

I’ve been taking private lessons with my teacher three or four times a week, and usually each lesson is about 45 minutes. But when it gets closer to competition time, I have to do more.

I also am trying to practice more on my own. A lot of times I get there early before my lesson to stretch and practice my weak points and go through my steps.

Do you have a favorite dance?

I always liked foxtrot because it’s so classic. But I also love waltz; dancing waltz well to beautiful music can be quite an amazing experience. I also like quickstep. You have to move fast, so it’s fun and cheerful. Each dance is beautiful and challenging in its own way.

Can you describe what the competitions look like?

Several competitors, in formal competition attire (including hair and makeup), are out on the floor dancing in front of judges and audiences. In my case, my male teacher is a professional and I’m an amateur, but there are female teachers competing with male students, too. It can be quite crowded on the dance floor. The judges score us while we dance. The first time I won, in Las Vegas in March 2022, it felt quite good. I never thought I was a competitive person, but it was still very nice.

What’s next? Are you planning to compete regularly?

I will definitely compete more. The next one will be in early September in Los Angeles. There are different levels of competition: bronze, silver, gold, and open. Lately I’ve been dancing at the gold level, but at some point, I’d like to compete in an open category, which is the most competitive level.

And finally, why do you love to dance?

Dancing brings me closer to my true inner self. So it’s been fascinating. I always enjoyed dancing, and it only gets better the longer I dance. This is how I get to know myself and connect to others.

Young Lee performs the Viennese Waltz