Many of you know that dancers do not have both feet on the floor at
once; they are jumping, leaping or turning. How is it possible that
Deaf dancers can keep count with the music when they can’t hear it,
or feel it?
The Gallaudet Dancers, a dance troupe at Gallaudet University, work
many long hours to count all the music in a dance step. Some of the
dancers may be able to pick up some of the cues from the music,
depending on the extent of their hearing loss. In ‘regular” classes
a dance teachers calls out the 8 count rhythm. For Deaf dancers, the
teacher signs the count. Another way a Deaf dancer can “hear” the
music is to watch and follow a hearing dancer while learning the
dance. Most dancers have many details to remember, for Deaf dancers,
counting and keeping time is needed in addition to details such as a
pointed toe and a tilted head. Tania Karas wrote in Teen Ink, in
October of 2007 “As my hearing deteriorated, it began to affect my
dancing. It became difficult to hear the music. My dance teacher
often scolded me for “not listening,” when in reality I couldn’t
hear her instructions. I grew frustrated with my disability and saw
it as a barrier between me and my love: dance.” Tania goes on to say
that she discovered Heather Whitestone’s’ webpage and was encouraged
to follow her dream. “From then on I resolved to change. I worked up
enough courage to tell my dance instructor about my hearing loss. I
told her I would need a visual cue in order to keep track of the
music. She agreed to stand a few feet in front of me, clapping her
hands to the song’s rhythm. This method has helped me through
countless dance classes and performances.”
A Deaf person learning to dance is one thing, but how does a hearing
teacher instruct a Deaf dancer? “Keep in mind that Deaf children are
visual learners” says Marcia Freeman, a former dance teacher at
Gallaudet University. Seeing the dance moves allows the Deaf dancer
to interpret the steps and learn the beats and marks as to where
they should be at what point. A great way for dance students to
learn steps is for the teacher to write the step on a card, say the
step, and then perform the step, “thus reinforcing the vocabulary
for everyone, whether Deaf or hearing” says Mary Cowden Snyder of
Medford Dance Arts Academy in Oregon, “The best part, for Snyder, is
that all her students learn the ballet vocabulary well and can build
on combinations of steps.”
Can Deaf dancers be great dancers? Ask Heather Whitestone, who won
Miss America in 1995 by performing ballet en Pointe to “Via
Dolorosa” (Street of Sorrows). At the Florida School for the Deaf
and Blind, the dance troupe has been performing for 30 years. The
Troupe has performed throughout the state of Florida and beyond.
A Google search on “Deaf Dance Performances” returns over 10,000,000
hits. Many are from all over the world. A quick look introduces us
to the Chinese Deaf Dance Team performing the Thousand hands of
Buddha, and Deaffest, the UK’s leading Deaf-led film and arts
festival. Closer to home, we have The Wild Zappers, based in
Maryland, a Deaf men’s dance troupe that has performed around the
country and now every state and school for the Deaf and hard of
hearing has dance as part of it’s course offerings.
As you can clearly see, whether you can hear or not, the language of
dance is expressed through body language. Some may even say that
Deaf dancers are better than hearing dancers because of their unique
”The body says what words cannot.”
- Martha Graham
"Dance Techniques for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Dancers - Gallaudet
University." Gallaudet University. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2012.
"Dance Troupe | Clubs & Activities | Student Life | Florida
School for The Deaf & The Blind." Florida School for The Deaf & The
Blind. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2012.
Kaplan, Jennifer, and 11/1/11. "NVRC Website » Welcoming,
Teaching Dance to Deaf or Hard of Hearing Students." NVRC Website.
N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2012. <http://www.nvrc.org/welcoming-teaching-dance-to-Deaf-or-hard-of-hearing-students>.
Karas, Tania. "I am Deaf and ...." Teen Ink Oct. 2007: p21-21,
1/3p. EbscoHost. Web. 25 May 2012.
"Wild Zappers « Invisible Hands International." Invisible Hands
International. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2012. <http://invisiblehands.com/groups/wild-zappers>.
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