One of my clearest early childhood memories was the first time I performed on stage in front of an audience. I am sure it was the same experience for many children, and the cast of children I was with shared this first experience with me as well. I was a bumble bee in my first dance recital. Yes, as soon as I was able, I was enrolled in dance classes as a child. I remember my bulbous bee butt costume of big yellow and black stripes, and what I loved most about the costume were my cellophane wings. (Suddenly the song Mr. Cellophane starts vamping through my brain.) I don’t remember anything else of that performance. I don’t remember if I knew my part or did my moves, but I remember I did not stand there frozen, so it could not have been all bad. Dance classes were only a few among early piano lessons, and then acting in plays in drama class later on. In elementary school I was always asked to emcee class assemblies, get-togethers, and read on stage to parent gatherings. Reflecting on this now, I realize that this never stood out to me as a unique opportunity; it was just the way it was. My father’s English was astoundingly poor as he had never been to school and was self-taught. I was the person who taught my father to read and write when I was very young, so my ability to articulate was very important to him.
I continued performing throughout my schooling years, in every play, musical, and production that would have me. The single limitation that held me back at the time was often that I was Chinese, and that was not suitable for most roles. I cannot tell you how many times people told me I should audition for The King and I. I ended up dancing with a Chinese Cultural Dance Company for a while. These opportunities at an early age helped me build an on stage confidence that has served me well most of my adult life and career, even when the focus of most of my work was not that of a performer.
I am fortunate to be married to the Director of the Dance Program at Seabury Hall, a prestigious learning institution. What I love most is seeing those students in their early years performing on stage or in rehearsal studios. It brings me back to my youth, and it also fills me with joy to see their potential and growing confidence. It will never matter if these young people ever go on to perform professionally in their futures. What they will always take with them is a unique ability to command an audience and have the inner confidence to step out on that stage and expose themselves to an audience. It’s a brand of education that has so many benefits to one’s future endeavors, from delivering great speeches to making great sales pitches.
Recently when driving my preschooler home one day, he asked me if he could dance in the Camp Imua talent show this summer. I almost drove my car off the road, it was so unexpected. Tears ran down my face as I turned to him and emphatically said “yes my dear, by all means.” I composed myself to try to make it seem like no big deal. “What would you dance to Valentino?” I asked. Without hesitation, he replied, “Either Gangnam Style or the Gummy Bear Song”. “Perfect,” I replied. We left the conversation at that.
Valentino has also been witness to his daddies in rehearsals for Imua Family Services 69th Annual Gala Celebration and Fundraiser Fantasia Ball. Every week we hit the dance studio with a group of dancers from the community, and practices evolve under David’s talent and direction. The goal of this event is obviously a fundraiser at its very backbone and that is the driving motivation behind all who participate with their talents. I have always believed that it has to be fun to give, so I believe that I have to put everything out there on the line. It’s not enough to just be smooth – I want to be vulnerable, exposed, and I want our supporters to know that I am putting myself entirely out there for them. At Fantasia Ball there are performances from the very young, sometimes first timers on stage to the very experienced.
By default our son is exposed to a unique example. At four years old he understands the work that consumes the majority of our day. He also knows the extra things we do, the public appearances, the public speaking, guest teaching, and the rehearsals that lead up to all of them.
Recently, I was driving to help emcee an event, and Tino asked where we were going that we had to get dressed up for? I told him Daddy was going to be helping a friend by speaking at their special event. He was quiet a bit then he said, “you should tell them that when you walk in a circle you might think you are the leader but pretty soon you realize you are in the back of the line. But you can lead from the front and from the back.” I thought this was a great commentary on leadership, so in my opening remarks I was sure to quote my four year old son to this well informed group of people. His wisdom was perfect for the event. I also used his words in my closing remarks. What I loved most was that he heard me use his words and give him credit for them. On the way home I thanked him for helping me with my speech and he told me I was welcome.
I’m not invested emotionally in my son having an ambition towards performance (that’s a lie) but I do want him to reap the benefits of what performance brings to one’s life: confidence, the ability to teach, think on the spot creatively and react accordingly, the skill set to command attention when needed, grace, agility and the ability to publicly thank and recognize great things when they happen. I think there are many ways to give our children these confidences from sports and martial arts, to performing arts and good socialization including joining clubs. At an early age, children can learn through pretend play, storytelling, and show and tell. But that’s just me, this coming from a man who remembers being dressed up like a bumble bee and loving it.