The founder of the Bay Area’s annual gathering of the Deaf dancers and choreographers from around the world says you don’t need to hear music in order to be able to move to it.
Antoine Hunter is one of the most high-profile dancers with hearing loss working in the United States today. He grew up in West Oakland, the son of a single mom. Hunter fell in love with dance at the age of five when he saw an Oakland Ballet production of The Nutcracker. He wanted to start dancing right away, but his mother couldn’t afford to pay for classes. It wasn’t until he was in high school that Hunter could begin his education as a dancer.
Since then, Hunter’s dance career has gone gangbusters. He has performed locally with Kim Epifano’s Trolley Dances and Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company among others, as well as nationally, at the Kennedy Center and more. Today, Hunter is artistic director of Urban Jazz Dance and the founder of the Bay Area Deaf International Dance Festival. A passionate advocate for dance in the Deaf community, Hunter proves that you don’t need to be able to hear music to express yourself through movement.
With the 4th annual Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival coming up later this month, KQED Arts sat down with Hunter to hear about his passion for dancing and what dance means for members of the Deaf community
What inspired you to become a dancer?
God and my community. I didn’t expect to be a dancer. It was my calling before I could understand the full meaning of it. Being a dancer is like being a wizard. We create magical things.
How is it possible to dance if you can’t hear the music?
It works in the same way that breathing works for all things that are alive. Whether you can hear or not, dancing is a spiritual, emotional and freeing thing. You just dance. You tap into the physical or spiritual plane of dance and it all comes out. This reminds me of Muhammad Ali and James Brown. When you see them dance, it’s about life.
What is the most difficult part of being a dancer when you’re Deaf?
We’re too attractive! They want us to do everything! Just kiddin’! My experience is of working with hearing artists who want me to do things that relate to sound, which can be challenging. Sometimes, artists say things like, “when you hear this, I want you to fall to the floor,” or, “when you hear the tempo change, I want you go faster.” Since I can’t hear these cues, I need to find a way to make this happen with any help. Not all companies are willing and able to give me cues. So I’ve got to make it happen myself.
What’s your favorite music to dance to?
Jazz, soul, pop and Afro music. I also love Mozart and a lot of country too.
What would you say to Deaf people who find it difficult to do what they want to do?
I would ask them a few questions: who are you doing it for? How much do you care about it? If the thing you want to do is worth living for, then you’re one step closer to your happiness.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Seeing me and my little girl Zula dancing with her mom Racha , and her brothers Zahn and Sol, like there is no tomorrow… Laughing until
our stomachs hurt. Then Seeing people dance with their families … I
love seeing and feeling that.
What is your biggest dream?
My biggest dream is to present the Deaf Dance Festival nationally. I want it to be a place for healing, education and empowerment. I also want to see Zula Hunter perform with Antoine Hunter.
The Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival runs Friday, Aug. 12 – Sunday, Aug. 14. For tickets and information, click here.