Monday, March 17, 2008

More visibility for deaf people will arise from Marlee Matlin being on "Dancing with the Stars"

At least that's what I foresee happening. ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" (DWTS) has amazing ratings, so Oscar-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin will be dancing before a massive audience. When DWTS ended its 2005 season, it drew the most viewers of any summer TV series since Fox's September 2002 "American Idol" finale. That's impressive. (Here's a behind the scenes interview with Matlin and her dance partner Fabian Sanchez.)

Also, other dancers who are deaf or disabled may get a halo effect from Matlin's appearance on the show. The Cleveland Plain Dealer localized a DWTS story by profiling competitive dancer Heather Wagley, 32, who is deaf. In the past eight years with her dance partner, Larry Nemeth, she has won first place in more than 50 ballroom dancing contests. They'll be trying to win again in the San Francisco Open DanceSport competition in two weeks.

"The actress will learn the dances through sight, feel and repetition, just like Wagley," P.J. Novarro, co-owner of a dance studio told The Plain Dealer. "He said the film star will have to practice at least 40 hours to learn a dance, and that's more or less true for the other participants, too. 'Everyone is born with rhythm,' he said. 'She may not hear the downbeat, but it's transferred to her by her teacher.'"

And I am waiting for DWTS to learn about all the great wheelchair dancing that happens around the country and incorporate that into the show. One of the most famous dance troupes that has dancers who use wheelchairs is Oakland, Calif.'s AXIS Dance Company. It creates and performs contemporary dance pieces from the collaboration of dancers with and without disabilities. Others include Full Radius Dance in Phoenix and Dancing Wheels in Ohio. And for wheelchair users who just want to learn ballroom dancing, the American DanceWheels Foundation makes that happen. (They have a video clip of their participants dancing in a report from from ABC Channel 6 in Philadelphia.)