I was born in Gary, Indi., raised by a single mother, in a family of three children. I am the oldest, a young Black boy, who grew up to become a professional Black dance artist. I now get to do what I’ve dreamed of doing as a kid.
The first man who cared for me as a child was my grandfather; my stepfather was the second. My grandfather was my father figure and role model throughout my life. When I started dancing and seriously pursuing it as my passion, it was hard for him, an older man from the South, to understand. He was not accustomed to seeing Black male dance artists.
My mother, however, seemed to understand me and sensed my gifts in ways that others did not—in ways my grandfather had yet to understand at the time. She always played music around the house. She would sing to us. We watched musicals and videos to entertain ourselves. I fell in love with dancing and music because my mother exposed my siblings and me to the arts in and out of our home.
I am the oldest, a young Black boy, who grew up to become a professional Black dance artist. I now get to do what I’ve dreamed of doing as a kid.
She pushed us to take part in activities to keep us off the streets and to stay out of trouble. I participated in track and field. I played basketball, baseball, and I danced. I was really good at all of them, but dancing is what made me feel most alive.
I met an instructor who took me in and encouraged me to work on my skills. I followed her advice. Around the age of eight, I started acting in plays and starring in performances in small music halls. At 13, I began my professional dance training in African, jazz, ballet, modern and hip-hop techniques. I studied at South Shore Dance Alliance, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and Ballet Chicago for the beginning years of my dance training. Professional training was rigorous, but I pushed through because I wanted to take my dancing skills to the next level.
When I was in high school my grandfather came to one of my performances. It was the first time he ever saw me on stage. After the show, he walked over to me and said, “You are very good. You have my blessing. Be great, go ahead!”
At that moment, one that I will always remember, I knew I had to be great! My grandfather is very important to me. When I was younger, I looked up to him. He respected me and realized how talented and passionate about dance I was. The prospect of men dancing may have been new to him, but something shifted and he was open after seeing me on stage. My dancing touched him in some way—so much that he gave me his blessing.
There’s a little boy somewhere in the world who needs the support of people in his life who aren’t afraid to push him beyond societal expectations of manhood. There’s a little young boy who simply wants to be free.
At 17, I moved away from home, which was physically, mentally and spiritually taxing. I enrolled in a Summer internship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. It was amazing for a kid my age, a young boy from Gary, to experience New York City. After my internship was over, I moved to NYC permanently after getting accepted into Ailey’s fall program on full scholarship the following year. The transition was hard; I completed my senior year at a new school, in a new city and state, with none of my friends or family around me. But I was determined to succeed and make my dreams come true.
The fuel that keeps me going is the love and support of my family. When I am tired and don’t feel like dancing, I reflect on why I turned to dance as a young boy and how blessed I am to have the gift of dance. My gift is so much bigger than me. Dance is my voice and through it, I get to share my life experiences with the world. I am bringing my real life experiences to the stage with faith that I will touch somebody or that someone will be encouraged or inspired by my story. I dance, with my heart beating strong, with the strength of the spirit, because I believe a little version of me, a young person who exists somewhere in the world, needs to see the young Black boy from Gary, Ind., who was brave enough to chase his dream. The young Black boy who became a man is now unafraid to stand in his truth, express joy through the movement of the body, or express love to others through dance. I dance because I must. It is when I am most free. And I want that type of freedom for all of us.
There are so many perceptions about male dance artists in any culture, but I remind boys and young men who love dancing that whoever you are, whatever you are, you are a person first, endowed with a special gift. A gift that the creator gave you. It’s not about being masculine or feminine. Those boxes are too small to contain us and our gifts. The road to manhood is different for every man, the difference is in our ability to unite in our power, however, and not a cause for division.
We have to broaden our minds, open our hearts and accept new perspectives. That’s what happened with my grandfather. He was there for me. He opened up his mind and his heart. He realized that dancing was something that I loved to do and I was really good at it. I imagine how the life of a young Black boy who, like me, dreams of himself on stage could be positively shaped if those around him experience the type of loving acceptance I received from my family. There’s a little boy somewhere in the world who needs the support of people in his life who aren’t afraid to push him beyond societal expectations of manhood. There’s a little, young boy who simply wants to be free.
Renaldo Maurice is the past, present, and future of Black men lives in his heart, along with the genius of dance.