Things to know

Pointers for Instructors Teaching Deaf Dance Part 2: The Whys

Have you read Part 1 of this Article: Pointers for Instructors Teaching Deaf Dance Part 1: Top 10 Guidelines? Here is Part 2 to explain the whys.

Profiles of our Deaf Dancers

  1. Deaf people have different degrees of hearing and deafness (medically classified as mild, moderate, severe and profound).
  2. To a piece of music (or any sounds in general), each of them hears different things (not necessarily always the strongest bass or loudest sounds). Some can sense the bass, some lyrics, others certain pitches or instruments etc.
  3. Each Deaf uses different ways to SENSE music. It is usually a combination of their residue hearing and through sensation from different body parts and environmental factors. It is the whole combination of all these senses that the Deaf enjoys music.
  4. The common perception that Deaf dancers feel the music through vibration from the floor when dancing is not accurate. It might be useful for Deaf dancers to feel from the environment, eg floor or touching the speakers to get used to the music when not dancing. But it is not possible to feel the vibration when the feet are constantly moving (especially genres like street dance).
  5. The level of speech clarity is NOT a gauge of level of hearing or deafness. Speech clarity depends a lot on the speech training one has from young.
  6. Having hearing aids or cochlear implants is NOT a gauge of level of hearing or deafness. Such devices do not make a Deaf become like a typical Hearing person. The effectiveness of such devices is different for each Deaf. Some Deafs also choose not to use any aids regardless of their degree of deafness.


  1. There is a wide range of Deaf profiles due to many factors like family, type of education, and social environment. When it comes to communication, the most effective way is to understand the Deaf individual’s preference.
  2. Not all Deaf can lip-read or speech-read. Even for those who do so, it can be ineffective in a group setting during dance class.
  3. Not all Deaf uses sign language. Even for Deaf who sign, sign language is not universal. It can differ by:
    1. country (as with spoken & written languages)
    2. culture (as with different races in the same country or different dialects in a same race)
    3. social circles (as how people have their own lingo in a social group even though there is a common language, due to factors like age, experiences and environment)
  4. It usually takes time to pick up the kind of signing which works best in a particular social group.
  5. When communicating one-to-one or in a small group at proximity, you can speak normally without exaggeration in mouth shape or speed.  The Deaf might ask you to repeat; please do so normally unless he/she requests that you slow down or make adjustments to your speech.
  6. If long information-based explanations are required, you may request the assistance of an interpreter. All our hearing members in RDF are able to interpret for the group.
  7. When working with an interpreter, please continue to address the group or the individual by maintaining eye contact. Please do not talk to the interpreter and say “Tell them that…”
  8. Other than that, during class it would be most effective to convey your message by body language, gestures and facial expressions.
  9. This is possible even if you do not know sign language (as an example, just imagine how overseas instructors conduct workshops without a common language).
  10. In all settings (regardless of group size, lip-reading or speech reading competency), body language, gestures and facial expressions should be utilised to convey the message effectively.
  11. Think of ideas and concepts visually and not in words.
    Many instructors tend to ask interpreters how to sign certain key words. While we are encouraged that instructors are eager to learn sign, doing this during class can break class momentum and affect learning. Instead go for the most straightforward and visual way.

    Example 1: When you want dancers to use the balls of their feet.
    Undesirable Tendency: Try to recall or ask for the the sign for “ball” and “feet”
    Recommendation: Simply point to the ball of your feet. To emphasise, you can add by pointing to the heel or other parts and gesture wrong/negative

    Example 2: You want dancers to execute a body wave that is smooth and small in magnitude.
    Undesirable Tendency: Try to recall or ask for the the sign for  “small”, “smooth”
    Recommendation: Do the following

    1. Demonstrate a big and sharp wave (you can add a loser face)
    2. Gesture negative/wrong (you can shake your head, cross your arm, draw a cross in the air, give a frown or all of the above)
    3. Short pause
    4. Demonstrate the desired small and smooth wave (you can add a cool confident expression)
    5. Gesture positive/correct (you can nod your head, show a thumbs up, draw a tick in the air, give a smile or all of the above)

Note that the short pause in step 3 allows associating step 1 with step 2, and step 4 with step 5. Without the pause, it might be misinterpreted as associating step 2 with step 4, and might result in conveying the direct opposite of the intended message!

During Dance Class

  1. Check with the Deaf dancers if the settings of the audio system allow them to sense the music, eg get them to bounce with the tempo for confirmation. Increasing the volume might not necessarily be better. Things like bass or echo might need to be adjusted. Some Deafs might need to change their position in the studio space to reach a balance or compromise.
  2. Never show rhythm by ONLY simply making beatbox-like sounds eg:  “this part goes dum.. dum tah tah dum tah dum tah” for obvious reasons. You can, however, for more advanced levels, explain visually the texture and quality of the sound or cite the instrument to help dancers understand why this move is executed with this feel and quality at this particular beat.
  3. As far as possible, break down the music and dance by counts. As mentioned, because different Deafs sense different things and different parts of a piece of music, in a group setting, we will need to go back to the basis of counts of the music used as that is the only common thing to fall back on for alignment. After the dancers have the counts as reference, they can start to match it with what they can sense, after which they can attempt to dance with what they can sense/feel with the piece of music in alignment with the choreographer or instructor’s intended interpretation. Hence, we recommend relying on counts for a start before dancers get used to and understand the music well enough. When we work in smaller groups of Deaf where there is a small range of profiles, we can make use of alternative methods best catered for the group. The main focus would have to be giving them a basic reference and a common language to sync with one another for group showcase.
    Deaf members are currently encouraged to step up and teach and share their own interpretation of music. This is a great evolution because after being exposed to how others interpret and express music through dance, they now provide their own interpretation and expression of a piece of music. Many times, there are interesting discoveries because there might be certain aspects of the music that are usually not seen or heard or felt.
  4. Always make sure the class can see your face and mouth when you need to communicate. Take note of this when moves are back-facing or looking away from the front. When there are movements that cover the face or mouth, explain first, then demonstrate the move. Doing it simultaneously hinders the Deaf from reading you because they cannot see your face and mouth.
  5. Give visual cues for starting a set. This can be clapping a countdown tempo 5,6,7,8 or other visual cues of your own approach. Ensure the class knows your convention of countdown and keep it consistent for the same exercise or part of music. Eg, for some parts you might want to clap-cue 5-6-7-8, for others, 5-6-7N8, or you might need to start on a different count besides 1.
  6. In addition to giving counts, for some Deafs, it is effective to tap the rhythm lightly on the hand while playing the required part of the music especially for more complex rhythms.

Don’t Worry It Gets Better!

  1. For a start you might feel awkward that a Deaf class is a lot quieter than your usual Hearing class, or you do not feel as much reciprocation, interaction or what many instructors get as the “class high”. This is likely because the Deafs are focusing on getting used to reading and understanding a new person, or might be reserved on interacting with you due to worries of miscommunication or simply just shy. But most of the time, there is active communication going on during class that you may not be aware of or able to sense. It will take time to understand the Deaf students and learn how to read their visual feedback and emotions.
  2. Some instructors might not be used to using extensive gestures and facial expressions especially when showing negative examples (remember the loser face?). There might be fear of looking silly or “uncool”. This will depend on your priority. But it is a proven fact with many of our past guest instructors, that letting go of that reservation results in a more engaged and effective class.

Food for Thought:

  1. Several of the above pointers can also be considered as universal pointers for teaching dance even in a Hearing environment, instead of seeing them as accommodations made just for the Deaf. Imagine yourself teaching in your usual dance class with Hearing dancers. Your usual communication might be through words. Imagine adding body language, gestures and facial expressions on top of your spoken communication. The combination of both auditory and visual feed might have a wider impact.
  2. Please remember most students and individuals perform at the teacher’s expectations for the student or dancer; do not lower your expectations for your Deaf students. Each student is a unique individual with varying dancing abilities just like all of your Hearing students.

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