A review by Keisha Hill for The Gleaner.
Dancing to music has long been used as a form of expression for celebrations, entertainment, and to simply have fun. But for children who are hearing impaired, participating in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) National Deaf Dance Competition is designed just for them and has given the students so much more.
Win or lose, their efforts must be heralded! The dancers need many hours of practice in order to develop an inner sense of timing for a specific dance. Some of the dancers who have some residual hearing pick up cues from the music to assist them in knowing how they are supposed to move, but this does not happen the first time they learn a new dance, but rather after countless hours of practice and counting all the movements in a dance step.
At the National Deaf Dance Finals held at the Little Theatre, it was obvious that counting visuals helped to establish the basic rhythm pattern of the dancers and facilitated the development of the inner rhythm and timing for each dance. Occasionally, the drum was used to demonstrate the precise rhythm of a piece of music. Often, a hearing-impaired dancer used his or her eyes to watch and follow the movement of a fellow dancer who was able to hear and follow the music.
Eighty children and adults across the island competed for top honours in the festival with each performance having everyone on their feet. The festival featured dance items ranging from creative folk to popular dance, and the dancers dazzled as they took command of the stage.
While the younger students shone, some of the evening’s most memorable pieces came from the senior category. Well-choreographed and with bright,beautiful costumes, The Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) delighted the audience with their piece ‘High Praise’. They left the audience enthralled and their efforts paid off with a trophy for the best Senior Performance.
‘Tribal Worship’ which was performed by the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf truly left viewers with images of certain ethnic traditions etched in their minds. The dancers’ spirited movements were complemented by their creative costumes – grass skirts and painted faces.
Geraldine Thompson, a teacher at the CCCD, located in Montego Bay said the students from her institution did well based on what they were taught. “It was challenging preparing the students especially to get them to go with the rhythm. But the effort was worth it. Some can feel the rthymn while others can hear some of the music,” Thompson said.
Other memorable pieces included ‘Happy Movements’ which was performed by the Abilities Foundation. Decked out in exciting blue and yellow costumes, they had audience members eating from their hands. When their number ended with the song Tom Cruise, the theatre erupted into cheers.
‘Work’ which was performed by the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf was another energetic and exciting piece. The choreography was well done and saw them winning a prize for Best Dance Skit.
Kimberley Topey, a teacher at the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf said the students lived up to expectations. “With the help of other teachers, we were able to prepare the students. We are so proud of them,” Topey said.
This year’s festival theme focused on Positive Parenting and featured a number of dance drama pieces aimed at depicting the values that ought to be practised by good parents. The heart-warming piece ‘A Father’s Love’ by May Pen Unit won best duet.
However, St Christopher’s School for the Deaf emerged on top, copping multiple prizes. Their junior piece ‘One Step Closer’ was not only the best overall junior performance, but was also the Best Overall Dance Drama on Positive Parenting.
Organised by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), an agency of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport and the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, Deaf Dance is part of the week-long celebration in dance, dubbed Dance Week, included in the National Finals of the Festival of the Performing Arts.