Jamal Josef is hoping to erase the stigma of Black male dancers with his new children’s book, ‘Black Boys Dance Too’.
Josef grew up dancing in Oakland, California and said he was always faced with bullying and hurtful comments. He remembers thinking it was already hard enough to be a Black man in America and dance would be one more barrier to fitting in with others.
“I do remember being young and I would have girls say to me, like, ‘You’re a dancer, my mom said that that’s gay’. Or, so, ‘You dance too well to be a boy’,” said Josef who worked with Beyonce on her “Homecoming” concert and countless other celebrities.
The book tells the story of a boy named Darnell who enters a talent show but isn’t being accepted by his friends. The story shows the importance of loving the gifts you are born with and fighting bullies.
“When we see, you know, things that are outside of the stereotype of what is masculine and feminine, anything that isn’t quote unquote masculine, what men do, then it’s already just in the feminine category. And I think that that is what’s really made it hard for young black men to say, OK, yes, I will put on these tights or I’m going to do – and it’s, and it’s almost funny to me because it’s like football, baseball, you guys were tights. And then – but it’s like don’t do don’t dance and wear them.”
After completing the book Josef realized how much the story mirrored his own life and is now overwhelmed by the positive responses to his work.
“I was speaking from my experience, but not realizing that there are millions of people, even older men, who told me that they danced when they were younger, but due to how society was at that age, they went into other fields and they kind of gave up something that they actually loved,” said Josef.
“Like it’s such a bold statement just for the Black community, period,” he added.
Josef has many hopes for the book including having it disturbed in schools, turning it into an animated short and simply starting a needed conversation.
“I’m hoping that this starts to spark something to see the need that this is what a lot of kids want. A lot of kids love to dance. A lot of – people love to dance. Honestly, you cannot hear music and not move, and if you can you’re just weird,” he said with a smile.
(Production: Alicia Powell / Rollo Ross/ Sandra Stojanovic)