Harry Shum, Jr. Brings “Glee” to Asian Arts Festival

Students and faculty clapped, snapped, hooted and hollered as Harry Shum, Jr., who plays character Mike Chang on the hit TV show “Glee,” walked onto the stage and busted a dance move in Kemper Auditorium last Friday.

Kicking off Andover’s 25th annual Asian Arts Festival, Shum’s appearance was funded by an Abbot Academy Association Grant, as well as the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) and Asian Society.

“Asian-American men are extremely underrepresented in films and television programs, and the few who are seen on screen are often typecast in stereotypical roles. [Shum’s] achievements in his career, despite the ‘bamboo ceiling,’ are truly amazing, and his success is a testament to his tenacity and talent. He is an inspiration to us all, and he proves that we can accomplish anything if we try hard enough and never give up,” wrote Angela Hui ’16 in the Abbot Grant.

Lalita Kittisrikangwan ’14 said to Shum, one of her biggest inspirations, “I just wanted to thank you [because] I’m in a dance group here at Andover, and a lot of people are surprised, asking: ‘Oh, you’re Asian and you actually know how to dance?’”

“For you to be on ‘Glee’ and [to be] an inspiration in breaking stereotypes shows a lot of people that we’re not just good at science and math. We can do a lot more than that.”

Shum started off the night by speaking about his childhood. Born in Costa Rica, he moved to California at the age of four. There, he had trouble relating to his peers because of his race, which Shum said led him to be shy growing up.

Yet Shum did not let his shyness get in the way of what eventually became his career. He discovered his love for acting and dancing in high school, when he was asked to perform in front of 200 students at a school gathering.

“The moment when I went and tried out for the drama team was when it all changed for me,” said Shum. “I got to do this improvisation, and the scene was being a cheerleader. From there, the teacher loved it, and I got to do it in front of a school assembly. That’s when I knew I loved [dancing], and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life,” said Shum.

After a series of questions, Shum was ready for a dance break. He divided the room into sections, giving each section a beat using hands and feet to be mimicked, thus creating a rhythm to dance to. Then, Jaleel Williams ’15 and Kittisrikangwan individually volunteered to go on stage to dance with Shum.

“I was free-styling and doing whatever came to mind,” said Williams. “It was really cool because he’s professional, and I haven’t been dancing for a very long time. To have that support of him next to me and dancing with me… was a really fun, out-of-body experience.”

The dancing continued as Shum asked the crowd to stand up and close their eyes. “Do whatever makes you move to this sound,” he slowly whispered into his microphone.

He began creating a beat. The students, who promised to keep their eyes closed for the duration of the moment, began shaking every nerve from head to toe. As the beat changed pace, so did the movement of the students.

“[Shum] was extremely personable and relatable. I think students appreciated hearing his story of challenges, of his perspective…regardless of their own ethnic/racial background,” said Aya Murata, Associate Director of College Counseling and an advisor to Asian and Asian-American students.

Shum is currently working on a project with Red Bull to look at the parallels between extreme sports and dance where sports are seen as an art form and dance is seen as a sport.

“In the series that I’m doing that’s coming out in a couple of months, we break it down,” said Shum. “With slow-mo, we looked at the similarities between a motor cross and a ballerina. People say they’re not the same, but when you break it down and look at the movement, there are so many similarities it’s crazy — grace, balance, control, timing. Even a baseball player once told me about the importance of rhythm.”