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Bellydance and the Deaf Community:


Belly Dance and the Deaf Community
by Amanda Souza

Shanazel, a partially deaf dancer, teacher, and moderator of a belly dance forum says, "Dance is in your soul, not in your ears." (1)

Belly dance is an art form that has captivated men and empowered women for thousands of years. Whether young or old, tall or short, small or large, performers of this dance are given the opportunity to demonstrate the true beauty of women throughout their generations. Even men, like Zorba: the veiled male, have taken on the passion to dance this dance from the East (6).

To truly dance, one must feel the music in one's body, for this reason members of the deaf community often surprise those who can fully hear when belly dancing, because hearers usually would never guess that the dancer is hard of hearing or deaf (1). For some reason, many hearing people don't think that someone who has partial hearing or is fully deaf is capable of dancing or keeping any sort of rhythm. Like many assumptions, this is untrue. There are many dancers, like Aradia from Las Vegas, who have made belly dance their life, and who are partially or fully deaf (4).

Aradia has unilateral hearing loss. She is completely deaf in her right ear. There is no hearing aid or cochlear implant which she can use to restore any of her hearing; she says most research goes into the loss of both ears. She was seven when her hearing failed, and that same year she took up belly dance. She is an absolutely beautiful dancer. She is a performer, instructor, and choreographer. She says that she, "learns a lot of my music through vibration, if I can't tell what the rhythm is I put my hand on the speaker to feel what the drummer is playing, as a kid I put my feet on the speakers and learned my rhythms that way.(4,5)" She was featured in a video, BD-TV vol 3 (belly dance TV), where she is in the spotlight and talks a lot about how she learned dance (3).

Teaching a student who has no hearing or partial hearing is a little different than teaching a student who can hear. Instruction is based more on visual demonstration than on explaining what a particular move is before showing it. With specific moves, showing good form, then bad form, then good form again is a great way to help anyone get the moves down the correct way. Hands .. from the instructor can be beneficial, but as with anyone, getting permission is necessary before being used (1).

It is important that the students feel the vibrations too so they know the rhythm of the music. For the most part they'll be able to feel the vibrations in their feet and legs from the floor (the music may have to be louder than usual), or breast bone, like dancer, instructor, and choreographer Inanna Bint Ali, and having the student put their hands on the drums when live music is used will help them get the beat . Also, watching a dancer dance to the music while they are feeling the rhythm from the vibrations facilitates a quicker learning of the routine(1,2). For dancers that may not be able to hear certain pitches, it can sometimes be confusing when there's choreography in a certain spot of music where these pitches are. This is true for Inanna Bint Ali who mentioned, "one troupe member kept asking me about a movement change 'when the high voices come in.' Well -- because I don't hear much in the way of high frequencies -- I had no idea those voices were there. So I was a little puzzled, as was she. But we worked it out." If there's music where the tone does change, unbeknownst to the dancer, then watching and dancing in a group makes it possible to learn the spots (2).

Audiences of all kinds love to watch and be entertained by belly dance. For those deaf or hard of hearing, the music, many times, is loud enough for them to feel the rhythm through floor vibrations while watching the performance. If there are words to the song, and a dancer can interpret, adding that aspect to the dance gives an effect of a very unique experience for all. Below is a video (found on of a girl named Holly, interpreting a song with the Trillium Belly Dance Tribe (7). Belly dance is a wonderful art form, like others, that is not prejudiced by a person's ability to hear.

5. Personal email from Aradia


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