Note: Deaf children in Ireland access digital hearing-devices since this article was written in 2010, increasing their participation in vocal singing, dancing and performances they may previously have been excluded from or found difficult to access.
Dance can teach deaf children spoken language
Music is heard differently by a person who’s deaf
Traditionally, deaf or hard of hearing people were not taught to dance on the basis that if they couldn’t hear the music, how could the rhythm be kept?
A new children’s book aims to change this. Bristol author Catherine Gibson was driven by her own experience to write a book: “Through Sophie’s Eyes,” the story of Sophie, a young deaf girl who dreams of being a dancer.
Catherine says, “I wrote the book because I wanted to be a voice for these children”. Sophie loves to dance and jumps at the opportunity of joining a dance class at her school. However, in the class she faces some obstacles.
The other students don’t think she will be able to dance if she can’t hear the beat. However, everything changes when the class is asked to dance without the music. Experiencing Sophie’s world, the other kids learn to understand what it is like and to include Sophie in their dance classes.
As a dance teacher herself, Catherine spent some time teaching dance to deaf students. She says ‘it brought a lifetime of joy within her heart”. It is after this experience that she wants to spread the word that deaf children love to dance. Teaching in Hartford, Connecticut, Catherine would dress the kids in costumes and they would copy her dance moves.
While the story is inspired by her experience as a teacher, some characters are created from memories of her time as a dance student. The character of Miss Helyn in the book is in real life the teacher who first taught Catherine how to dance.
Dance and music level social barriers
Rachel Elliott, Education Manager of Green Candle Dance Company in the UK highlights the benefits of deaf children learning dance. She says “dance is an art form through which they can derive great pleasure and express themselves in an immediate way, in contrast to the difficulties they can experience communicating with the hearing world”.
Apart from the personal and educational benefits, dance classes are a great way of children to meet new friends and socialise. Rachel hopes that her summer school and other dance schools will break the barriers to dance that many deaf children and even adults experience.
(compiled by Miriam Walsh)