Until three years ago, Donald Lee had no interest in dance. Now, he is an emerging force.
Mr. Lee, who lost parts of his legs after a car accident more than 20 years ago, performs with and without his wheelchair for the Heidi Latsky Dance Company. He has also become outspoken on accessible artistic practices; his next lecture on the subject will be at the South by Southwest Education conference on March 10.
A paralegal by day, as well as an avid biker and climber, Mr. Lee said he uses his prosthetic legs and wheelchair in public, but while at home, he often uses a furniture dolly or KneeBlades (kneepads affixed to three-wheeled mobile units) to get around his apartment, which does not accommodate his wheelchair. “For me, my life is a construction site,” he said.
Mr. Lee, 48, lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn with his boyfriend, Sean O’Shea, 48, a blogger and also a paralegal, and two Shih Tzus, Marshmallow and Loki.
MORNING TASKS I usually get up around 9 on Sundays, but today I got up around 6, to rain drops, dark and gloom. I clean myself up and have coffee. I straighten up the house, which means folding and putting away the laundry I have done the previous day.
DEAL WITH THE DOGS My mom, who lives in Los Angeles, sent Marshmallow and Loki red envelopes for Chinese New Year so I wanted to send a thank-you photo. I groom them, which includes cleaning their eyes. I give Marshmallow her two pills because she has thrombocytopenia, a low blood platelet count. Thank god she’s totally fine with pills. I don’t know if the medication causes her to pee more, eat more and be more angry. Everything is more.
HOBBIES I have a lot of plants; it’s my jungle. I often talk and sing to them. They’re doing great, some are growing much bigger and colonizing. I also collect sands and store them in canopic jars. My favorite is from a trip to Egypt. It’s so hot there, the sand is bleached. I have three bicycles and love biking on the weekends, my primary and preferred mode of transport. I love harnessing the wind, it’s a luxurious sensation. Once, my leg slipped off while I was biking in Bushwick. That was a hilarious and scary moment.
FRESH AIR The dogs need to walk, so I head outside. Usually I walk them around the block, but I’m hungry, so I start to head toward John’s Coffee Donut Shop on Myrtle Avenue for breakfast, but the dogs are not having it.
GET INTO THE GROOVE I need to warm up my body before my dance rehearsal and showcase. Streaming music digitally is fine, but I like to select a record, read the sleeve and get into a whole album. Today I pick the soundtrack to the movie “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” by Philip Glass. I stretch out my whole body and start to dance.
MOVEMENTS I’m currently developing a solo piece, so I work on that. People have their own perception on how a body should move during a dance performance. But how do you emphasize an atypical body? I can use my wheelchair. But what if I don’t? And use it as a prop, flipping it over? Now it’s no longer useful. So how do you navigate that?
BREAKFAST SANS DOGS I finally eat. I go to John’s and order grits, bacon and eggs. Sean gets Belgian waffles. Sometimes we just order breakfast to go. I love everything about this place, it’s my favorite neighborhood greasy spoon.
REHEARSAL I head to East 109th Street and Fifth Avenue for rehearsal and a showcase for the dance company. It’s held at the performance space run by Positive Exposure, a nonprofit that highlights diversity and inclusivity through art. The dancers and I first work out our routines. We adapt our movement to fit the space, so we don’t bump into each other. Later, people come to see our performance to see if they’d like to book us. It’s a long day.
DINNER DATE Sean and I always have Sunday dinner together. We typically pick a place in our neighborhood, like Bar Bolinas, which has a fancy gin martini. After dinner, I get ready for the rest of the week, which means ironing out my clothes and answering emails. I read or watch TV and am in bed around 11.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Donald Lee on Instagram at instagram.com/_d_o_n_a_l_d/