Richmond teen dances through life with grace

by Gloria Osoba

She has beauty, charisma and intellect, but 16-year-old Crystal Lee is a normal teenager just like any other student at the San Francisco School of the Arts. But one thing stands out about her. She is a straight A student with a 4.0 G.P.A and recently won the Miss California Outstanding Teenager for 2008 award. She also won the Miss Teen Chinatown 2007 and Miss Teen Charity 2007 contests.

Lee is the first daughter of Wellman and Wendy Lee. She has a 14-year-old younger sister, Jasmine. Her father was born in Chinatown and her mother was born in China. Her mother came to the United States in 1986, where she had previously worked for a trade firm in Taiwan.

"It has been a pleasure raising Crystal. Sometimes she is good and sometimes she is bad, but I support her unconditionally. When a child is doing something wrong, there are two sides to it. One must look at it two ways to find out why the child is misbehaving," says her mother Wendy.

Lee is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, English and a little bit of Russian. Lee went to Presidio Middle School and Alamo Elementary School in the Richmond District.

"Living in the Richmond District is all I have ever known. I love the fact that the neighborhood is safe and my friends can just knock on my door and visit me anytime," Lee said. "There is a Chinese saying that says that a good neighborhood is better than a district relative."

Among the many people she admires are Oprah Winifred, because she is successful; pastor Wing Lem, because he is patient; her dance teacher Elvia Marta, because she is open hearted, loving, generous and strict; Rose Chang, because she started the Miss Asian American Pageant; and her godmother, Penny Wong-Belleza, because she is loving and has a huge capacity for patience.

Lee is an avid dancer and worldwide traveller. She has been to China, Hong Kong, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, Taiwan and Japan. She started dancing when she was three years old and currently dances 20 hours per week at the China Dance School on Taraval Street in the Sunset District. The dance school used to be located in the Richmond District but moved to the Sunset in 2004.

Lee is trained in ballet, Chinese dance, flamenco, jazz, modern, Polynesian and Russian dance. She is the youngest soloist in the history of the 30-year-old San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. She has danced leading roles in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Coppˇlia, Don Quixote, Paquita, Sleeping Beauty and Elite Syncopations.

"I love dancing because it teaches discipline, patience and endurance," Lee says.

Lee dreams of going to school in New York or on the West Coast. She is interested in going to Cornell University, New York University, Columbia University and Julliard College.

Lee visited New York at a tender age and fell in love with the city because it is one of the world's arts capitals. Also, many artists live in the city, and it offers many opportunities for an aspiring performer.

"Every single neighborhood in New York has its own flavor, and it contributes to not only the ethnic diversity, but also the local culture. There are also fantastic landmarks and attractions in the city," Lee said.

Concerning possible schools on the West Coast, she is interested in going to the University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University.

Once in college, Lee is interested in double majoring in dance and other potential topics, such as broadcast journalism, anthropology, political science, psychology and international relations. She loves anthropology because it provides her with various perspectives of humanity.

"We must put aside all differences and embrace everybody regardless of where we are from. I love all majors that deal with society, interactions, communications and the arts," she said.