I hope "Hamilton" encourages my son and other boys to pursue the performing arts

The arts don’t always come easy for boys. We expect girls to sing and dance and perform. When it comes to boys doing the same, it’s not easy—especially as boys get older.

I sat next to my eleven-year-old son today as we watched “Hamilton” in Chicago. He knows the songs; he knows the story. When we left the house for the theater, he joked, “I really don’t want to go.”

I’ve always loved the arts. In fact, when I was a kid, I thought about what it would be like to sing and dance and perform for a living. I remember being mesmerized by the whole concept of “West Side Story.” The music, the movement.

In high school, I joined the chorus. I almost got kicked out because I sang off tune. But I persevered. I remember the day I finally understood what it means to sing in tune. It was a sunny October afternoon during my freshman year. The chorus teacher would make me stand right behind him as he played the piano.

After lots of weeks when he would turn to me frustrated and yell, “Raymond! You’re off tune!” it finally happened. I opened my mouth to sing the refrain and I pushed out the air in the gut. I felt my voice ping in harmony with all the other male voices. “Rejoice” was the refrain. The note resonated inside my head. “Ohhhh,” I thought. “That’s what he means.” I couldn’t stop smiling because—finally—I could sing. Well, kinda.

As a teenager, I stuck with the arts program and learned to tap dance. Yup. I sure did. And lots of people told me I was good. I admired Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Gregory Hines. My parents attended every performance.

As music videos developed in the 80s, as hip-hop gained momentum in the 90s, I wondered how fellas who danced got to that level. But in my neighborhood, there simply were no opportunities to pursue the performing arts.

In my early 20s, I joined a Mexican folkloric dance company and was given a few of the male solos. I joke that God didn’t give me height—but he gave me rhythm.

My son inherited rhythm but, thankfully, not my struggling singing voice.

When my son was eight, he learned “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars and later, he could sing John Legend’s “All of Me.”

When he was about six, I’d take him to hip-hop dance classes—and my little guy would groove.

But, now, as a pre-teen, he’s getting shy about singing in front of people. He’s a little more comfortable with dancing, especially on Friday nights when put on music while our family eats take out Thai food and jams out in the kitchen. But when it comes to singing and dancing, he still often says, “Nah. I don’t want to.”

Right before the performance started today, I turned to my son and whispered, “I’m grateful I get to see this with you.”

Throughout the show, my son sat mesmerized.

I admired the men of color in the “Hamilton” cast today, and I felt proud my son could see examples of men who sing, who dance, who perform with confidence.

As a society, we don’t encourage the performing arts among young men enough. Stereotypes persist and opportunities are few.

I encourage my son to pursue the arts and, thankfully, he has access to voice lessons and, now, guitar lessons that I did have access to when I was his age.

Part of me would like to see him on a stage in some big performance one day. I know: it’s my dream, not his. When I asked him today if he’d like to be in a show like “Hamilton” one day, he said, “Probably not. It’s too much work.”

Great.

Even if my son loses interest in the arts one day, I want to make sure that it’s not because he feels ashamed about singing, dancing, or performing because he’s a man. So I expose him to as many classic male artists as possible. One of my favorites is Ray Charles.

On our way home from “Hamilton,” we took turns selecting songs. One of his choices was “It Shoulda Been Me” by Ray Charles. That’s our song, I tell my son.

When it started to play, I turned up the volume, and we belted out the lyrics as we drove down the expressway, my son singing much better than me, completely in tune.

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