Program empowers deaf students

July 26, 2010

Inside the Clark High School auditorium, the music is loud and the bass is pounding.

Students are learning dance choreography for the upcoming performance of "I Am Who I Was Born to BE" to be held Friday, July 30 beginning at 7 p.m. at the Clark auditorium.

The rehearsal itself is typical.

The performers are not.

The show's performers however, as well as their teachers, are hearing impaired and use mostly hand movements to communicate.

Though they cannot hear the music, it is not a barrier for the dancers. The students can feel the vibrations of the bass in the music, and use cues to know when to begin. Choreographers teach the steps to counts, and then repeat them over and over so that they can memorize the routine.

"It actually may be easier for deaf students to dance," said Carol Ann Broderson, founder and director of the San Antonio Deaf Dance Company (SADDC). "They are more in tune with the beat of the music."

The program began with Carol Ann Broderson, a Gallaudet University graduate who noticed that deaf students were not being involved in school, had very low self esteem, and were not pursuing a post secondary degree. She wanted to create a program that would inspire hearing impaired students to get involved.

Being a dancer in the Gallaudet Dance Company during college and also inspired by the Wild Zappers, a 1989 all male deaf dance group, she created the San Antonio Deaf Dance Company. It is the only program of its kind, with its founders, directors, choreographers, and participants all hearing impaired. It has grown tremendously since its establishment in 1996 and the group is becoming more and more well known.

This year the camp has had its largest group of participants. The four week leadership camp hosted by Northside ISD began with 55 middle and high school students this summer who are all from San Antonio and the surrounding area. At the camp, where they mainly focus on learning material for the show, much more than showmanship is learned.

Leadership, cooperation, and deaf culture are also values learned throughout the program. The students gain self esteem and pride in themselves while demonstrating for others what might seem impossible.

Socializing and learning with other deaf students also helps them gain the confidence they need to succeed during the school year. Grades and schoolwork improve dramatically and most importantly, the program gives students hope for the future and a life after high school.

"I've seen how the students grow," said Broderson. "Almost 100 percent of participants go on to a college program after high school."

This year's group is almost ready to bring the stage to life for its 14th annual performance, "I Am Who I Was Born to BE". The performances will all incorporate sign language and include dance routines, skits, poems, and videos created by deaf choreographers and entertainers Tara Rodriguez, Michael Davis, Ronnie Bradley, Kris Pumphries, Jon Kovacs, and Matt Dons.

A typical day of practice is, "chaos!" said Broderson jokingly. It begins with a warm up, small group practices, large group practices, and at the end there is an audition for the actual show. After four weeks of hard work and preparation, the performers are ready to take the stage.

"I'm most excited about showing my family what I've learned," said Marshall ninth grader Catherine Smola. "I am so proud. Deaf can do it!"

"I Am Who I Was Born to BE," performed by the San Antonio Deaf Dance Company, is open to the public. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Clark High School is located at 5150 DeZavala Road.