MJ Lee teaches Throw Some Shade, Commercial Dance and Bunny Bootcamp for us at Gymbox. She's lived in Paris, New York, and danced with Janet Jackson. She's a force to be reckoned with! "Sharing the stage with Janet Jackson was a huge bucket list moment!" We meet her.
Describe your usual day to us (from breakfast to bedtime)
A typical day for me is difficult to describe, because a day in the life of a performer is pretty sporadic… One day, I could get up, work a couple hours of promo, go to an audition, go to teach a class or two, work out a bit, run some errands, go home and do some admin work, then go to bed. Another day, I could get up, have a photo shoot, work a shift, go to rehearsal, teach a class... or I go outside of London to do a video shoot that lasts 13 hours, and so forth. Some days I hibernate to catch up on all the sleep I missed out on for three weeks!
You’re originally from Vancouver, Canada – what made you want to leave?
I’ve moved around quite a bit already. I’ve lived in New York, Paris, Boston, Sydney, and New Hampshire, so I’m not new to leaving Vancouver. This time around though was the first time I moved somewhere without anything to come to. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any job leads. All I really had was a one-way ticket, a Visa so I could work, and blind faith. To be completely honest, I felt like I was getting too comfortable in my life, so I came to London to really challenge myself personally and professionally.
We love having you here. What do you miss most about it?
I miss my loved ones terribly. I was really fortunate to have a solid support system of people who were rooting for me and believed in what I was doing. To leave that and come to a large and hectic city like London was definitely challenging to say the least!
What was it about London that drew you to live here?
When I was thinking about where I wanted to move to, I thought about a lot of different options. Because my time in Paris was such an incredible part of my life, I knew that I wanted to return to Europe, but wanted to live somewhere new. It came down to Berlin and London, and even though London is the most expensive city to live in, I figured I should probably choose the city where I can actually speak the language. Within a couple weeks of this decision, my Visa application was submitted, I gave notice for my apartment, and the rest is history.
How does London compare to the other cities you have lived in the world?
London is like running on a moving walkway in the wrong direction. You have to sprint twice as fast to get to where you want to go, and if you take a second to breathe, you’re drifting backwards, and if you’re going to take that second, you better stand on the right or you might get trampled by the never-ending herd of people trying to get to the same place you are. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!
What made you want to focus on a career in dance?
After I finished my degree, I had a lot of soul-searching to do. I'd dabbled in working events, design and marketing, but the problem was that I wasn’t feeling very inspired, and I was feeling lost. Throughout college I'd been part of a small student-run hip hop dance group, so I went to a dance program audition on a whim. I got there and they started doing all of these techniques and movements that were completely foreign to me. It was a pretty glorious shamble-fest. At the end of the whole thing, the panel spoke to each of us one at a time. I was waiting to be laughed out of the room. As I waited for my turn, I formulated my “Thanks for the opportunity, I really appreciated the audition experience” rejection-accepting speech. They called me in, and before I could even say anything, they handed me a contract. Right then and there, I burst into tears. In that moment, I knew that was what I was supposed to do with my life.
How has your background as a figure skater impacted on your dance career?
Body awareness definitely came into play when transitioning into dance, which of course really helped. What people often misconceive is that figure skating is just dancing on ice. There are very significant differences – in muscular development and training focus – between skating and dance. It’s like assuming that if you can play American football, you can automatically play rugby. There are common elements, but they’re not the same. Particularly during my first year into dance at 22, I was in a lot of pain because I was needing to completely re-develop certain muscle groups that were already fully matured. What impacted on my dance career most was the way my skating career ended. I got a serious injury, and it took me out of the game. Nothing is ever guaranteed, so I always give it everything I have while I can.
You’ve performed live with Janet Jackson, amongst many others – what was that like?
Sharing the stage with THE Janet Jackson was obviously a huge bucket list moment, because she’s one of the few commercialised artists around these days who I truly respect as a performer. She did come out and speak to us during rehearsals. That was an amazing experience.
What has been your highlight of working with us so far?
My highlight of working with Gymbox so far has probably been the people. I obviously enjoy an active lifestyle, so to be part of a community of like-minded individuals has been really great. For me, the people are what make my job a highlight rather than an obligation.