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Sign Dance: 

Sign Dance
By Alyssa Andres
4/4/2009

Sign language is not complete and cannot be well understood without the help of expression. As I have learned in my recent and previous ASL classes, expression is very important in signing. It puts emphasis on words, it can change the meaning of the words, and it can be the meaning of words. I was also told without expression in your signing, you would make it very dull and boring to watch. Just like in sign language, dancing contains expression as well. Without it you would be stiff as a board, it would be unpleasing to the eye, and very plain. Therefore, with expression being a common ground to sign language and dancing, the deaf culture has a dance style known as Sign Dance.

Sign dance incorporates the American Sign Language with choreographed dance steps. As a legendary character that went to school at Gallaudet University, Eric Malzkuh, he showed a great example of sign dance. As he performed a poem, “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, in American Sign Language, his gestures said it all. As an average translator might just be signing the normal and usual way which is “within the head to waist frame”, Malzkuh did something different. He “fluently moved around with his whole body.” (Lapiak, 2009) Dancing in sync with the music and incorporating sign you get two parts out of it: the story and the fun dancing.

Not only is it being admired within the Deaf community but among the Hearing community as well. However, sometimes Deaf individuals have difficulties trying to understand the meaning with a Hearing individual performing. Through this type of dance, sign dance sends out a message or tells a story. If a Hearing person performs a sign dance, most of the time they use “exact English” (Deister, 2009) which can make it a little difficult for a Deaf individual to understand. It is just as if you were to learn a foreign language straight out of a book, and when you really go to talk to a fluent person, it may be different. So having a Hearing person perform, especially without all senses and knowledge of American Sign Language, it is hard on a Deaf individual because “rather than getting clarity on the overall message of the sign dance itself, [they would have to] try to keep up with the words being signed.” (Deister, 2009) On the other hand, Deister, a hard of hearing individual, states that it is great that the Hearing community is interested in American Sign Language enough to do such an activity in respect of the Deaf culture.

Lapiak comments that people have noticed when she signed that her signing looked like ‘“hand dancing”’. Rathskellar, models exactly what sign dance is. They are a performing arts group who focus their performances especially on American Sign Language. Without saying anything during their performances, they use sign to communicate with their audiences and incorporate them in their dances. (Johnson, 2008) As sign language is as interesting as it is, integrating it into dancing makes it even more fascinating. Sign dance may not be known by all, but it is becoming more popular these days. With sign language being used more, by both the Deaf and Hearing community, sign dance has developed and is even being used and seen around more publicly.

Work Cited

Deister, K. (2009). Sign Dance. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from BellaOnline: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art42920.asp

Johnson, J. (2008, April 5). Arts group shows off hip way to sign. Oakland Tribune.

Lapiak, J. A. (1996-2009). Sign Language Culture. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from Handspeak.com: http://www.handspeak.com/culture/c/index.php?lit=choreography
 


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