Raising the Next Gene Kelly
Expectations and gender roles are defined for young children long before birth. Boys’ nurseries are painted blue and baby girls have closets full of pink. When they grow up, boys play contact sports and girls wear tutus. Societal pressures often prompt parents to forego certain activities for their children–instead, sticking to prescribed activities and roles. It is not only the children that suffer from these unfair practices, but also the performing arts, with fewer boys enrolled in such programs. Ultimately, when parents adhere to society’s strict stereotypes, they end up limiting their little ones.
Many parents are quick to sign their boys up for tee ball as soon as they’re old enough but would snicker at the idea of a dance program. Are they afraid the dress code may consist of a tutu and leotard? Simply being unfamiliar with the performing arts and what they’re all about are likely to make an uninformed parent pause.
Dance performer and instructor Emanuel Washington, who grew up tirelessly playing football in the backyard, said, “My family was shocked when I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer. I had always wanted to be a lawyer.” Even though his family was surprised by his choice, they were very supportive. “I am very lucky. It was wholeheartedly my decision,” explained Washington who discovered his passion for dance at LSU.
Unlike Washington, Puerto Rico native Marcus Colón has always been exposed to the arts. He is a music performer and instructor who, because of his parents’ involvement in music, realized his path early on. He admitted that in certain places outside of the US, upholding gender roles is not so much of an issue. “I did not have experience with [these prejudices] over there. It’s very common to see a lot of both genders in performance roles [in Puerto Rico].”
Washington comments on the disproportionate number of males involved in the performing arts. “Not many young boys pursue dance. Dads have problems with it. It’s a more feminine environment than they’re use to.” Even though we’ve become more open-minded as a society, there are still families uncomfortable with crossing gender-specific perimeters. But awareness of performing arts’ benefits can help.
The benefits certainly outweigh any perceived risk of getting boys involved in the arts. “You learn to care for something, devote yourself in order to accomplish a dream,” said Colón. Artistic expression promotes skills in discipline, problem-solving and creativity. Dance provides flexibility, balance and strength, making your child a better athlete. Colón stated, “In an ensemble performance, you learn to work as a team, just as you would in sports. You must do your part so the performance will be complete.”
Washington gained confidence. “I am a completely different person now and dance has given me that. My ability to dance has let others see my real personality,” he said. During tough times or periods of depression, Washington finds hope in dance. “Dance really does take you away. It’s an outlet for me,” Washington explained.
Many parents have doubts when trying something new—for themselves or for their children. Colón advised, “Exposure helps both parents and children. Take children to see performances. The arts have something to offer every human being.” Watching different performances can ramp up your child's excitement for an art. Washington encouraged, “Let kids do whatever they have an interest in. Give them options. Don’t let a stereotype stop your children from doing something that they could be great at, innovative at.”
What if Gregory Hines or Savion Glover had never put on a pair of tap shoes? Imagine if Michael Jackson had never stepped onto a stage or if Beethoven never played the songs that came to his mind? There are simply too many men who have entertained and inspired because of their pursuit of the performing arts. Who’s to say your son can’t do the same?