Saturday, 31 October 2020

"That was when I realized that through dance I could communicate, and that saved my life."

One day, my mother took me to see Oakland Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” Being Deaf, when I would watch TV or go to the movies, I couldn’t connect with what I was seeing because it was not accessible for me — usually lacking captions or ASL interpreters. I would miss all the jokes. When I watched the Oakland Ballet, it was wonderful. No one was talking on stage; instead, everyone was dancing as a way to communicate. It showed me that I can use art and dance to communicate with the world.

That was the day I knew I wanted to be a ballet dancer. My mom couldn’t afford to take me to dance lessons, so I had to wait until high school to dance. It was a long wait. I was a person that no one understood; therefore, I became a person who felt I had no place in the world. It was a depressing feeling of being an outcast and left out of everything.

My high school dance teacher Dawn James taught modern and jazz, and she believes the spirit of dance lives in everyone … including me. Whenever she danced, it was powerful — a Black woman was giving me permission to find power in myself. She didn’t treat me differently, even though I was the only Deaf student in her class.

One day, she gave us a class assignment to collaborate in groups and come up with a dance performance to Whitney Houston’s song “I Will Always Love You.” Students were supposed to work together, but no one wanted to work with me. So, Ms. James told me to make up my own dance and perform a solo. I couldn’t really hear the words, but I read the lyrics on the back of cassette tape then clicked play and initially rocked side to side expressing the cold and loneliness I felt. During the powerful instrumental break, however, I was suddenly all over the room, my body channeled the lightning, fire, wind and ocean I sensed in the music. When the music ended, I faded off my dance. My classmates were blown away. They told me, “I really felt you were cold and alone.” That was when I realized that through dance I could communicate, and that saved my life.

I could remember that feeling I had when I watched the Oakland Ballet. Dance has the power to communicate, and I felt I could channel that power to communicate with others around me and they would understand me. I no longer wanted to die. (...)

As a dancer, people will say to me, “Oh, you can feel the vibration, that’s it, you’ll be fine.” No. If I jump, I can’t feel the vibration. If I’m running around really fast, I can’t feel the vibration. I have to slow down and stay in one place for a while to feel the vibration. So what does that mean? I’m listening. I’m using every intelligence of my being to do what I have to do to make it work.

For me, this often means creatively finding visual cues to stay on beat. So sometimes, I’d try to see what was happening with the light. Maybe the light would feel the vibration, and I could see what the rhythm is. Or I look at the musicians, and they’re bopping their heads or tapping their feet. I say, “Oh OK, that’s what the rhythm is.”

My body started to develop Deaf instincts, it’s like mother instinct or animal instinct — or like a Spiderman sense. Some people say, “How do you know when the music starts? Or the music changes?” Well, it’s my Spiderman sense. We love feeling the vibration. We don’t just like to feel loud shaky beats, but also clarity in the music through the vibrations. (...)

My work, deeply rooted in social change, will uplift marginalized communities, expose hidden truths through arts while breaking down barriers of judgments from those with white and/or hearing privileges. Marginalized Deaf communities include those who are Deaf youth, Black Deaf, POC Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, LGBTQIA, and other intersecting identities.

Antoine Hunter

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