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Dance and the Deaf


By Samantha Schumacher
1-31-2012

 

Dance and the Deaf


Most people, when asked, wouldn’t consider dance as a possible hobby for the Deaf or hard of hearing. On the contrary, dance has become a very popular pastime for many in the Deaf community. Gallaudet University’s “Dance Company, which mounts up to 15 concerts annually, was formed in 1955.” It has been a great success and uses a combination of American Sign Language and plenty of visual examples. Through this method, Gallaudet and several other Dance Companies have been able to create a system for Deaf dancers to learn alongside their fellow dancers, whether they are Hearing or Deaf (Looseleaf).  Dance has become a great way for members of the Deaf community to express themselves and connect with other artists.

It is also thought that dance has a great deal of therapeutic value, especially for the Deaf or hard of hearing. It not only a way to express emotions, but also a technique to release stress. Dance creates a healthy environment in which to express fears, explore, feelings and question beliefs -- activities that have been shown as beneficial to people regardless of hearing ability (World). It also expands their social connections, contributing to overall mental, physical and emotional health.

Going back to plausibility of Deaf people being able to dance, there are many techniques used by Deaf dancers to stay on the beat and feel the mood of the music. Since feeling the rhythm of the music through the floor is impossible with dancing, Deaf dancers must rely on other indicators. Some claim that they use the reactions of the crowd, whether that be nodding to the beat or clapping along with the song, to keep a sense of rhythm and stay on beat. They may also follow their fellow dancers, who may be Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing. By watching other dancer’s movements and rhythm, they can keep time and continue with the music. Some hard of hearing dancers who can hear low sounds are able to build off of the lower parts in songs and follow along to what they can hear. Those who can hear the lower tones might also just listen to the music over and over until they practically have it memorized and then dance to the song from memory. Much of Deaf dance is built on visual cues and memorization of the phrasing and beat of whatever song the dancer is using in performance.

So far we have discussed dancing that has been choreographed to music, but that isn’t always the case. The American Deaf Dance Company, one of the few touring Deaf dance groups, often does it’s pieces to no music at all. Since dance is simply about the movement of the body, dance without sound has “[forced] us to rethink our conception of dance and to see dance clearly as an autonomous art form, independent of its musical component.” (Bergman) Deaf dance has opened new doors not only for Deaf artists but also for those who study or just appreciate dance to view it without any other distractions such as music or singing. It is purely dance.


Dance is a very complex art form and, as shown, a viable form for those of any hearing level. In fact, those who can’t hear the music behind have begun an entirely new branch of dance that is pure movement and grace.

 

Bibliography


Bergman, E., & National Access Center, W. C. (1981). Arts Accessibility for the Deaf.

Looseleaf, V. (2008). To Their Own Music: Dancers Who Are Deaf—and Defying the Odds. Dance Magazine, 82(10), 56-60.

World Federation of the Deaf, R. ). (Italy)., & Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, I. C. (1967). Cultural Activities for the Deaf.
 



 


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