FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Students perform behind Derrick and Judie Lee in their 2-year old dance studio, Allegra Performing Arts Center, in the Aikahi Park Shopping Center in Kailua.
Derrick and Judie Lee of the Allegra
Performing Arts center in Kailua hope
to share the healing power of music
through their work with young people
For Kailua resident Judie Lee, 37, growing up on the mainland as a foster child was a rough experience. Music became her lifeline, and she became a teacher of piano and choir.
Two years ago, Judie and her husband, Derrick, started their own music studio, the Allegra Performing Arts Center in Kailua, which works with more than 200 kids. Judie hopes that music and dancing will help local kids get through their own difficulties. "It's not a big business venture for me," said Judie. "It's more of a personal mission.
"I've learned that performing arts is just a really powerful tool to reach kids and families."
"She has a real heart for that," said Derrick, 39.
Judie moved to Hawaii 10 years ago and started out as a bird lady in Waikiki, taking pictures of tourists. Soon after, Aikahi Elementary School in Kailua hired her as a teacher's assistant, and she taught music classes. Parents were impressed, and the Parent Teachers Association came up with the funds to hire Judie to teach music to the entire school of 640 students.
An after-hour school program evolved, with musical productions, including an annual Christmas show at the nearly Aikahi Park Shopping Center.
Judie met Derrick, a musician in a rock band, and he began helping with technical aspects of the music program. They married in 1997. Two years ago, the center approached the Lees about opening a studio in place of the former Savers discount store.
So they went for it.
"We didn't plan on doing this. It just was an opportunity that came up," Judie said.
So, Judie and Derrick went from working in an 18-foot-by-20-foot room at the school to a 2,500-square-foot space, with two classrooms and a private studio. They have 20 instructors working for them, with daily lessons in jazz, guitar, hip-hop dancing, ballet and piano, among other arts.
"My daughter Audreen goes there. She's 5," said Kailua resident Terese Hiram. "I would just say you feel very comfortable leaving your child if you have to run an errand."
Derrick described the work as a battle of competing with sports and other children's activities for their time. Teaching children is the bread and butter of the business, although the center does have adult classes too, he said.
"Right now, what we're trying to do is get this particular location stabilized, first of all," said Derrick.
He handles the financial and technical side, and Judie handles the people. Her title is director, while his is technical director.
"This is her dream," Derrick said. "I just help her to make it a reality."
The two also have a side business. They perform at private functions. "We're like a cocktail act. It's pretty fun," Judie said.
Derrick sings, does video editing, and handles sound and lighting. Both provided entertainment at a recent annual meeting of the Council of State Governments-West at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
What has working together been like? "Probably a roller coaster, I'd say," Judie said. "We've always worked together though."
"It is hard because just being two different individuals, we both have different tastes and different likes, and we do disagree," Derrick said. Being a creative person, he finds it hard to take a back seat in the business. Yet, Derrick knows, one person has to lead. "It has to be one person; it can't be two people," he said.
The two do not have children, and have no plans to have any, Judie said. Their students and their two Chihuahuas will do just fine, thank you. A nice part about working with kids is "I can get all that maternal energy out ... and go home," Judie said.
During the summer, when business is slow and kids are out of school, the Allegra center puts together an annual musical at Castle High School in neighboring Kaneohe. This year, the center wrote a "dansical," called "Picture This," about a young playwright who has a vision for a youth center. Sound familiar? "During the play the heroine struggles with parents, child stars and a temperamental choreographer! Will she be able to pull this off?" an announcement reads.
Judie admits, it was kind of an autobiography.