#BeyondTheFear: Being an artist and a creative.

Growing up in a hyper-masculine, immigrant community of color it wasn’t exactly celebrated when “men” decided they wanted to be artists. You see, in my community “men” were taught that the arts were a sign of weakness. Why? Well, arts are an expression of one’s emotions and “men” had to be stable and strong. Clearly, all of those concepts are bullshit.

The first memory I have as an artist is actually my birthday in 1998. I was turning 9 and I wanted to show all of my family and friends a dance I had made to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente.” I stepped into my living room with everyone’s eyes on me and for 4 minutes and 28 seconds I was free. I’ve never forgotten that day and I don’t think I ever will. It was at that moment that I experienced what I wanted to feel for the rest of my life, the joy of creating art.

Well, as the years passed creating art definitely became part of my life. From joining choir with Michelle Bendett, to dancing on Kings of Dance with Krissy Williams, to my position now as the Senior Creative Director at SOZE with Michael Skolnik, Paola Mendoza, and Zackery Stover. But one thing changed, I wasn’t free.

Yeah, for moments in time I would feel free, like when I learned the full routine to NSync’s “Pop” and performed it in front of my class in 6th grade. But all in all, art had found a way to become a source of pain for me. Art was the reason I questioned myself.

You see, being a young man in middle school who wants to dance and sing isn’t exactly what my family wanted. Joining choir meant I was probably gay (surprise! I am an happily married to Dom Tyler Leon-Davis), and wanting to dance meant I wasn’t athletic enough to do sports (since dance “is not a sport.”) And well, all hell broke lose when as an 8th grader I decided I was going to go to the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet High School. I didn’t stop there though. I went on to study music in college, while teaching dance at Edge Dance Studios, and vibing with DCypher and of course AUinMotion. I even painted a couple of visual pieces that I sold right after high school!

Although I always pushed to continue being an artist, I was always an academic first and an artist second. Growing up as an immigrant my family expected me to succeed, and even though my mom was a well known interior designer, the idea of me being an artist wasn’t what she envisioned for me. It didn’t help that I was a perfectionist and that no matter what I did I felt I wasn’t good enough. Yeah, I was an okay musician, and an good dancer, and I had an okay eye for design, but I definitely wasn’t the best. And I wanted to be best.

I wanted to be the best at something so much that instead of following my heart I just did what I was good at…school. As I watched my friends pursue their dreams I stood on the sidelines and basked in the praise I got as an academic, because I knew no one could take that away from me.

Well, here I am years later and realizing what it means to be free and that’s accepting myself as an artist and as a creative. It’s funny because I grew up always being told that I was the “jack of all trades and king of none” and it pissed me off. But it’s also what got me here. No matter how far I tried to stray from the arts I’ve always ended up back in the mix.

Yeah, I might not have a bachelor in the arts and I might not be good enough for some people, but today I accept that I am an artist and a creative. Today, I thank my mother who has come full circle and now proudly calls me “her little artist.” Today, I thank all of the people in my life who saw the artist in me when I couldn’t (You’re probably tagged here). Today, I give a shout out to all of the young people of color who are some of most amazing artists and creatives in the world and are my source of inspiration.

Today, I dedicate my life to being free.

Today, I dedicate my life to being me.