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Deaf Dancers

By Cheryl Errichetti


Deaf Dancers

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 qualities.

"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. <>.

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. <>.


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