Deaf Dancers: Can You Dance if You Can’t Hear the Music?

Before I was a dance teacher, I taufht self-defense to people with physical disabilities.   I was inspired to study American Sign Language when I had a deaf student in one of my classes and a deaf friend in my Jujitsu dojo.  I hung out with the deaf community (who thought I had recently lost my hearing because I signed so poorly) so that I could practice.  I was surprised to find that not only were there deaf dance parties, but that they were so loud I couldn’t bear to be in the room even with ear plugs.  My friends explained that they feel the rhythm through the reverberation in the floor when the music is turned up high enough.  Don’t try this at home if you don’t want to lose your hearing, too.

Obviously I knew there were deaf dancers, but I hadn’t thought about deaf professional dancers in a hearing world.  Anyone can have a passion for dance, with or without hearing, and there are many approaches to keeping rhythm in your body when you can’t hear the music.  I’m featuring two dancers in this post.  One is a young hip hop dancer who is striving to make dance his profession.  The other is a classical/modern dancer who dances professionally but supplements her dance career with her day job as a chemist.

The young man feels the bass through the floor like my partying friends, but has studied the nuances of what the bass is doing so that he can interpret the music and dance to it.  The classical dancer learns choreography and takes her cues from the other dancers and the director as well as her interpreter.  Both dancers rely a lot on their internal sense of rhythm to carry them through the dance when the cues are not there.  They seem to agree with my premise (see previous post Is Rhythm Innate?) that rhythm is innate in humans.  Clearly, the ability to dance, even if you use my definition of dance as making a musical instrument of your body and jamming with the band, comes from deep within the soul and is not connected to any one sense.  Not even the ability to hear the music.

In this clip, the aspiring dancer auditions for “So You Think You Can Dance”.  He’s not quite good enough to make the cut, but he wows the judges anyway.  Let him explain in his own words how he does it, any why.

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In this clip, the professional dancer talks about the challenge of competing with the hearing dancers, the prejudice she experiences when trying out, and the ways she has found for solving the problem of dead on timing without the advantage of hearing the music.   Deaf dancers must learn the timing to perfection.  They can do it with or without the music.  Listen to her explain it in her own words.

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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