My Ears Can’t Dance – But My Feet Can

Yes, Deaf people do dance!

But surely, you may think, Deaf people can’t dance if they can’t ‘hear’ the music?  Not everything is about sound as you would traditionally think it is.

I have always relied on the vibrations, they travel through my body to the top of my head.  Also being near the loud speakers – being next to them, or better still, between them you can’t help but feel the beat of the music in your soul.

It was quite funny really, looking back, there was me and my mates hanging out next to the massive speakers in nightclubs where there are plenty of room, where few hearing people dared to stand for fear of bursting their ear drums, and we were caught up in the intoxicating beat and we just found ourselves going with the rhythm.  We were really getting down to the beat.  It felt as natural as swimming or the rhythm when you walk, mostly subconscious, just moving with the environment, totally immersed in the pulsing throb of the thumping vibrations.  It was fantastic, we were moving and dancing just the same as the hearing people there and had no need to ‘hear’ what they heard, we were one step ahead and closer to the action than they could ever be.

(Photo of Nightclub)

Thinking about it, I have totally taken this all for granted over the years, us Deafies have always had a better time in many respects.  At whatever event or party, there we would be, dancing away and still holding a full blown conversation with each other, no matter the distance, loudness of the music or in the dark with flashing lights!  

I did have one very funny experience which I feel I should include, just to redress the balance a little.  While we were on that holiday in Corfu there was a time when we were all out dancing around the poolside, I think it was the last night and a special outdoor event – now obviously on concrete surfaces, you don’t tend to feel the vibrations quite so well.  Well, anyway, my friend walked off to get himself a drink or whatever, and as he was going he tripped on something.  He thought nothing of it, continued with what he was doing and then settled himself on a chair back with us.  Meanwhile, at the very same time, all the party goers stopped dancing and were looking around themselves in bemusement.  We had no idea what had happened and why everyone seemed to be searching for something and looking at us as if we had done something.  It soon became clear when the bar manager came over and picked up a loose cable, the one my friend had inadvertently tripped on, held it up to show us and then plugged the music back in!

Looking even further back at my own experiences, I think I was pre-teen, say 10 or 11, I was at a birthday party and there were about 20 children, quite a large group.  There was a disco!  I was the only deaf child there, the rest were all my hearing peers from school.  Anyway, as you might expect, there was a competition for the Best Dancer.  My heart sank!! How would I cope being the only deaf child?? I wore two hearing aids at the time to amplify what sounds I could hear but even with those…

I wasn’t a quitter and I got my head in the game.  There were loads of kids practicing their break dancing and disco moves, what could I do?!  I was in the zone.  I would do my robotic moves.  From the tips of my fingers to the top of my eyebrows I became a robot.  This is something we call “Visual Vernacular” (visual language) which Deaf people do naturally and is an accomplished skill to learn when you use BSL as a hearing person.  This style combines movement with gestures and facial expressions to communicate something with visual complexity.  My movements became stilted yet greased, my expression automated and mechanical.   I was in the mode.  Unfortunately, like most deaf people, I did carry on a little while after the music stopped which the other kids found hysterical and I was a bit embarrassed, but hey, that’s a deaf thing! 

(Photo of a robot dancing)

Anyway, they started giving out prizes for different categories and, to be honest, I lost interest.  I couldn’t lip read the teacher well enough to see who was winning and I wasn’t that bothered or interested to be honest.  Suddenly though, I looked up to find everyone looking at me! I focussed on the teacher and I could just make out the teacher mouthing the word “Stephen!”.  I looked at her for a second.  Me?  Why me?? What had I done this time?  She pointed at me and said “Won!”.  I had won??  I had only won the BEST overall dancer of the competition!!  I was so delighted but at the same time hugely embarrassed with everyone looking at me and clapping.  What a moment that was.  I had to walk up to collect my prize in front of everyone and I will never, ever forget that moment. It was so life affirming for me.

So is it all about the music and singing along to the lyrics??  No.  People may hang on to the myth that Deaf people can’t dance and that we would stand there like numpties not knowing where to put ourselves but the reality is we can.  We regularly enjoy clubbing; dancing and partying.  There are many highly skilled professional deaf dancers out there who are top in their field.  

It is really interesting that at the moment on the BBC One show “Strictly Come Dancing” there is a top Deaf dancer, Rose Ayling-Ellis, who will be the first Deaf person to be included in the programme.  That programme will be so interesting to see how they smash the communication ‘barriers’ and fit in with the other participants.  A few years ago there was a famous USA based Deaf performer, Nyle Dimarco, in the American version who utilised ASL Interpreters (American Sign Language) and it was fascinating to watch the series pan out and then to see him win the entire competition.

(Photo of “Strictly Come Dancing” there is a top Deaf dancer, Rose Ayling-Ellis)
(Photo of Nyle Dimarco, in the American version who utilised ASL Interpreters (American Sign Language)

Deaf and disabled people are just as capable if not more so.  We all have different strengths and abilities, my best one is teaching Sign Language, so I like to think I dance more often these days with my hands!

For us, it is the vibration; the spirit; the pulse; the throbbing sensuality; the pumping surges; the ebbs and the flows; the drumming; oscillating and immersive rhythm. 

People often ask me if I can dance and I always say that “My ears can’t dance but my feet can!”

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