Lee Wright had a successful career teaching and performing salsa dancing throughout the UK and internationally, usually with his dance partner, Shelley. Lee was very popular on and off the dance floor. He was an inspiration to dancers for his skills in dance, teaching and performing and he was also an incredibly fun and loveable person to be around with his infectious personality and vitality. Lee was working professionally for over 7 years and had great success with the competitions he entered with Shelley including UK Professional Champions 2006 and 2007, Silver Medalists at the European Salsa Masters Championships 2006, and Semi-Finalists at the World Salsa Championships 2006. During his 24th birthday celebrations, Lee died as a passenger in a car accident in Malaga, Spain on November 9th 2008. It was a terrible shock to all who knew him and a tragic blow to family, friends and the salsa community. Lee had been planning to set up a dance school. The planned name “Synergy” has now been incorporated into the charity name. Lee’s Trust has been set up to allow others to continue to benefit from Lee’s positive approach to life. This is to be achieved through the medium of dance and music, to allow people to better develop their physical and psychological wellbeing. Initial funds were raised in January 2009 at ‘Lee’s Tribute’, a fundraising event in central London which brought together the entire UK salsa community to celebrate the life of Lee Wright. The aim of the event was to raise funds to contribute towards funeral costs and establish a Trust in Lee’s name. 700 people attended ‘Lee’s Tribute’. Following the initial fundraiser, Lee’s family and friends have held further non profit events including a ‘LoveLee Day’ and and a summer salsa ‘LoveLee BBQ’. The first ‘Annual LoveLee Salsa Extravaganza’ fundraiser was held in November 2011.
When over 3000 people join a remembrance group for your best friend and fill it with the most poignant, funny, or touching words you’ve ever seen, its difficult to know what to say when I am standing here now. I’ve read every word on Lee’s Remembrance site over and over again to try and make sense out of how we are all feeling, but nothing can exactly capture what was so special about him or why we all feel he belonged to each and every one of us.
When I decided to talk here, I read about how to write a eulogy. You are supposed to say how you know the person, what they are to you… I actually can’t do that for Lee. Dance partner. Best friend. Flatmate. In fact in some countries we would be classed as common law husband and wife and you would believe it from the arguments we had over the cleaning and the washing up… But, in the end, I realised that Lee didn’t conform to any label. Not for me, not for anybody else here, and not in any aspect of his life. He was so much more than just a friend, more than just a dance teacher, to everyone.
When I met him on the dancefloor 6 years ago, I could never have imagined the impact that moment would have on me. Lee allowed me to experience life in bright, vibrant colour. One of our friends put it beautifully when they said he and I shared a big, warm and dazzling slice of life together and I will always be grateful for the experiences we shared, from his favourite sushi in front of the TV at home to the international destinations where we were lucky enough to perform. Together with all of us that loved him, I will always cherish the opportunities and the memories that Lee gave to me.
Lee was so modest that I expect some of his friends and family might not know the extent of his success, which was driven by his remarkable, unforgettably warm personality. I checked on a map this week, and realised that we had taught and performed together in virtually every country in Western Europe. The weekend of the accident, a minute’s silence was held at salsa events all over the world, including Poland, Germany and Australia. People are still emailing me to say they have a candle for him, or a photo at home, some of whom may have met him only a few times. Such was his immediate effect on people.
In fact, Lee has taught me something very important. We used to have heated discussions about the fact that I was trying to encourage him to use one of his many talents, in languages or dance, and work towards a qualification, perhaps to do a degree. But it turns out that Lee was right in the end, to pour all his energy into his dancing and teaching and simply taking more time for friends. Because one of the many things he has shown me is its true what they say – “people may not remember exactly what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
One day, we wanted to open our own dance studio. In fact, Lee had just written his business plan for it. We were going to call it Synergy Dance Company. The dictionary definition of synergy is: “The interaction of two forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.”
But nobody here needs to hear that from me, because we’ve all experienced it first hand around Lee. Quite simply, in his company, he made you feel bigger than yourself and as if you could do anything.
To lose so much in one person is tragic beyond comprehension. Lee’s wonderful attributes on the dancefloor as a performer, teacher and entertainer will be stated over and over again today but none of them can capture the true magic that he brought to us all in that way. But off of the dancefloor, he was a real and true friend to myself and many others here and we were privileged to know his more private side. I can assure you it was equally as enchanting. Lee was a person of contrasts…
…Academically, he was an absolute genius with an offer from Cambridge University, but he loved to spend hours watching The Simpsons on TV, stretching in the splits or sticking endless sequins onto our costumes.
…He was on his way to speaking at least 6 languages, but his smile and dimples spoke a thousand words.
…He was a fantastic piano player, but sang the most hilariously bad karaoke.
…He was a world class dancer in great demand but he always found time to speak to every student in a lesson and remember their name.
…He went to great lengths to look good, having perfected the art of fake tanning without a single streak, and then proceeded to make us all take shaky face ugly photos together in the least flattering fancy dress costumes.
…He was a natural onstage, but was nervous to the point of being ill minutes before and after most of our shows.
…He would drive for 3 hours or even fly every week to rehearsals with his other dance groups and I, but then we would end up spending the whole afternoon chatting in the park.
…He would dance, sing and entertain at the airport until we’d said goodbye to everyone, and then was asleep exhausted on my shoulder within minutes.
…He was spontaneous and patient at the same time.
…He loved chocolate and cherry coke but still had perfectly white teeth.
Through all these contrasts, one thing always remained the same. Lee’s presence by my side, on stage and off, gave me the confidence and the drive to live a full and positive life. That is the gift he gave to me, and all of us, and now we have to try and do it for ourselves. With no “what ifs”, and no “if onlys”. Lee could not understand people who were unhappy with their situation but not working to change it. He really thought that anything was possible and he did it; as many people have said, living more in his 24 years than most people would in a lifetime. Its almost like he knew this, as he always said he would not make it past 30. I am so thankful for the fact that he had really grown into himself and had said over and over again recently that he was happier than ever and truly content in life.
Lee, thank you for our amazing journey. You allowed me to live our dreams. Your enthusiasm and positivity will stay with me and everyone else who was privileged to have you light up our lives.
Finally, somewhere in this room, I am sure that you can all hear Lee’s voice. He is demanding that we smile wider… Laugh louder… Live harder… and leave here today determined to make the most of every day.
Lee, I will try to listen to you.
And Lee, for all of us, you will be…
…Forever Young, …Forever Perfect, …Forever Loved, …and in your own words, Forever Gorgeous.
Lee Wright Synergy Dance World Memorial Trust Registered Charity No. 1142876 (Charitable Status Gained July 2011)