thoroughly modern dancer diana lee is a lively artist
Diana Lee is the sort of woman who pursues her goals with passion. Always has. When she was six years old, she climbed her first piano bench and tackled classical music. Next, she took up the flute and was soloing with the Seattle Philharmonic while her fellow seventh graders were still tootling in the school band. At 17, accompanied by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, she played Mozart's Concerto Number Two in D. "I also ran track and joined the gymnastics team at school -- it wasn't as if I skipped all the things other kids did," she says, "but I was always drawn to the self-expression of music and dance." Diana's Chinese immigrant parents endowed her with a work ethic, which she applied to honing her own talents. At the State University of New York at Purchase, where she went to major in music, she became entranced by modern dance, but an instructor told her she was too old to consider that career. Dancers, like tennis players and musical prodigies, start young. "I took that as a challenge," she says, "and made dance my passion." She saw a performance by a dance troupe from the University of Utah, fell in love with the "unaffected grace" of the dancers, packed up and followed them back to Utah.
Three years ago, Miss May earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in modern dance from the University of Utah. She still lives in the thin air of Salt Lake City ("a great place to train -- when you get down to sea level, you feel like Superwoman") but spends much of her time touring. Today, although she still plays the flute at gatherings of classically minded friends, she makes her living as a dancer. "I don't like to limit myself," Diana says. "I like to play around investigating things. I'd like to do some choreography. I like to draw. I like to write. I'm learning to play the congas. And one of these days, I want to raise a family, too."
Relaxing at a Japanese restaurant in Santa Cruz, California, after a rehearsal with her dance troupe, she eats sushi and drinks water. Dancers may not have to start as toddlers, as Diana proves, but they can't afford to pig out on the beer and Häagen-Dazs everyone else in this college town seems to live on. Miss May has delicate hands, a voice to match and almond-shaped eyes that take in everything that happens around her, even as she describes her current passion. "Dancing is using every part of yourself to make art," she says. "If you have certain flaws, as we all do, you don't always hide them. You put them to use. It's like when Playboy takes pictures of all your best angles -- in dancing, you can jimmy things around a little, so that to the audience, everything looks perfect. It's like any job in that you learn tricks like that, but one thing I like about dance is that your body is your job, the only means you use to express yourself."
One of Diana's few frustrations is that the public is often intimidated by modern art forms. "It should be a job to do it but not to see it," she says. "People work too hard trying to understand modern art or modern dance." Her advice: "Just enjoy it! Draw your own meaning from it. You either like it or you don't. If you don't, don't worry about it."
Diana doesn't worry. She's too busy. Even as she dances up and down the West Coast, she is weighing future passions. She looks forward to the day when she'll have more time for writing, drawing, playing the drums and wrapping injured knees.
Knees? "I want to go back to school to study sports medicine. That's next."
Why not? Diana is already a physical artist. She felt that it was natural to make a once-in-a-lifetime appearance in Playboy now, "before I get wrinkled. I brought the same feeling to posing that I bring to my dancing," she says. "Posing is flirting, cajoling, seducing -- performing."
Photography by Richard Fegley, Stephen Wayda