Wild Zapper, Common Ground Sign Dance Theater Company, Rathskellar - The 4 Jack, ChanDanse De Sourds, Russian Soul, Arai Dance Show, China Disabled People's Performing Arts Troupe. Dynamic names for groups of very talented, high-energy performers who have won awards and inspired countless people around the globe.
Incredibly, all these groups are made up of dancers who are deaf. Literally, they can't hear the music they're dancing to. Some of the dancers were born deaf; others lost their hearing due to accidents or illness during infancy or early childhood. Some have some residual hearing, and may use traditional hearing aids or cochlear implants. Some communicate by reading lips; others rely on the use of sign language.
Who are these remarkable people, and how have they made a name for themselves in what might be considered a profession that's only accessible to people who hear?
The China Disabled People's Performing Arts Troupe is a group of twenty-one young male and female dancers. They are most famous for their Thousand Hand Guan-Yin dance, a breathtaking performance depicting an ancient Chinese deity with many arms and hands. This group's tight coordination and elegant artistry has thrilled audiences around the world. They use four human, hearing "conductors" who stand unobtrusively at the corners of the stage to cue the dancers into their next steps.
Wild Zapper is an all-male deaf dance troupe in Maryland, USA. These young men work with kids, letting them experience funk, hip-hop and jazz dance styles, while teaching a little American Sign Language in a fun environment. They give workshops and other educational programs that have won them high accolades and loyal fans worldwide.
Common Ground, comprised of four dancers out of Liverpool, England, originated a style of dance performance that fully integrates sign language into their choreography. Like the Deaflympics, this group is now run by deaf people. Their work is strongly rooted in deaf culture, but those who are unfamiliar with sign language can fully enjoy their passionate performance pieces too. Common Ground is alo involved in reaching out to the community. They run workshops for colleges and other groups, and give technique workshops for those who hope to be performers.
Another American group, Rathskellar - The 4 Jack, is made up of four deaf song-signers. This group's very popular work is set to a background of throbbing music that feels almost primitive. They incorporate the raw beauty of sign language with the cultural vibrancy of the deaf community of Gallaudet University, where the group was formed.
Russian Soul was the first theatre for the deaf in the world. Founded in 1964, it now has several touring performing troupes based in Moscow. This group's acclaimed Mime and Gesture Theatre is blossoming despite the difficult times in Russia.
Chandanse des Sords, a group that is unique in France, has ten deaf dancers, plus deaf percussionists and a deaf technical team. They do community outreach and offer performances of inspiring dance and "visual music," which is percussion. This group's purpose is to show that deaf people can create high-quality works completely under their own direction.
One of the current stars of the Arai Dance Show of Armenia is young Hayk Hobosyan, aged 26. At age 11, Hayk saw Michael Jackson dancing on television, and was inspired to make dance his life's work. When asked how he can dance without hearing the music, Hayk states that dance is passion, a way to express thoughts with gestures. He specializes in hip hop, break dancing and Latino dance, and he has been called a "phenomenon" and "the sun" of the Arai Dance Show.
To communicate among themselves, these deaf artists speak in the sign languages of their own region or country. Far from being simply speech made visible on the hands, sign languages are languages in their own right, which use space, directionality and many other components that spoken languages simply can't use. Watching these artists' hands fly in sign language is almost like watching another elegant dance performance.
These remarkable people have realized their dream through hard work and determination. Through their devotion to their art they have helped raise awareness of sign language and of the artistry and "musicality" that deaf people can possess.