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Breaking the Sound Barrier in Dance

Dance Theater involves sound: music, communication, and teamwork — how can Deaf and hard of hearing dancers and audiences be integrated into dance productions?

Photo from BYU Photos

Dance Theater productions can be inspiring and life changing to participate in and attend, but for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHoH) performers and audiences, it can feel near to impossible to enjoy a production, let alone participate in one. DHoH attendees struggle to hear the music, announcers, or story the dance is trying to portray, and they often can’t see what is happening on stage because of bad lighting or seats. On the other hand, DHoH dancers may be experienced and love to express themselves through dance, but they may face difficulty understanding cues, expressing issues, and executing directions given to them when they can’t hear the instructions given.

LaReina Hingson, Keely Song, and David Schekall were inspired by a performer’s family experience. The performer’s parents were both deaf and never had the opportunity of seeing their child in a performance because of communication barriers. In the article “Use of American Sign Language and Deaf Participants in Dance Theater: Considerations in Practice,” Hingson, Song, and Schekall decided to tackle the complexities of a DHoH production "Within Dreams," including setting up and executing a production that addressed the unknowns about integrating DHoH dancers and patrons in a dance theater production. Their goal was to encourage attendance of DHoH patrons and to integrate DHoH dancers into the production while making it a good experience for their audience, including the DHoH patrons and participants. They hoped that a successful production would encourage and give step-by-step guidance on how to produce future DHoH friendly theater productions.


In an effort to incorporate the DHoH community into a BYU theater production, Hingson, Song, and Schekall first focused on the needed ASL interpreters for the production. This would allow for the DHoH audience members to understand what was being explained about the storyline and the production itself. The producers also took their storyline and adapted it to better fit their target audience, the DHoH community. Their new storyline “Within Dreams” was adapted to include a Deaf man and his experience losing a job in the hopes that the production was more relatable to everyone in the audience regardless of hearing ability.

"Within Dreams" BYU Production

With a Deaf man as the lead position, it felt right for the producers to pick a performer who was from the DHoH community to help play this role. To better display the true feelings and experience the lead actor was trying to display, the producers also included ASL into the performance itself. This addition required added translation for those in the audience who were not familiar with the ASL used in the production. The translation allowed for hearing audience members to better understand what it is like to communicate using ASL. It also allowed for the DHoH audience members to feel accepted and understood. Both the hearing audience members’ and the DHoH audience members’ translation experience led to a more in-depth understanding of the production itself. The “Within Dreams” production crew was also aware of the need for the DHoH guests to see translations clearly, which led them to provide reserved seating for DHoH attendees to clearly see the translators and dancers.

Beyond the patrons themselves, DHoH dancers also needed special consideration. To the lead DHoH dancer and other DHoH dancers, the audible music, cues, or important information on or off stage were almost impossible to understand but were crucial to the success of the performance. Hingson and her team attempted to solve this issue through consistently having interpreters give cues and provide the information to help the dancers know what was happening on and off stage. Oftentimes this required the interpreters to carry around lights so they could be seen when the lights were off backstage. These simple actions led to more effective communication and allowed for the possibility of DHoH to participate in a production that highlighted their community.


By producing their own dance theater production of “Within Dreams,” Hingson, Song, and Schekall came to find the pros and cons of the methods they used in their production as well as provide inspiration for future DHoH productions. Their successful production provided further insight in how to produce a DHoH friendly theater performance with an example of the step-by-step consideration process that allows for better accomodations for the DHoH audience members and performers.

These efforts, to incorporate DHoH participants and patrons also, helped change perspectives and feelings of inclusion during dance productions. The lead dancer mentioned, “I discovered a new part of me during the rehearsal and performance aspect of a show. I realized I am representing [DHoH] individuals like me.”1 By focusing on the needs of DHoH community members and making their needs a priority in the production, Hingson, Song, and Schekall were able to produce a successful and unifying experience for all who participated, whether DHoH or not. The “Within Dreams” production paved the way for future DHoH integrated productions as well as created a safe environment to further include and unify our communities.

Read the Original Article

Hingson, LaReina, Song, Keely and Schekall, David (2024). Use of American Sign Language and Deaf Participants in Dance Theater: Considerations in Practice. Journal of Dance Education.

1 “I discovered a new part of me during the rehearsal and performance aspect of a show. I realized I am representing [DHoH] individuals like me” (Hingson, Song, Schekall, 2024, p. 9).