News & Articles

How Can You Perform So Well?

by Regina Daniels

This season, we’re expanding First Person to include stories from the Steppenwolf community. Performer Regina Daniels has collaborated with Steppenwolf as Theatrical Sign Director, working closely with our American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter teams to ensure that they deliver the most effective interpretation of the artists’ intentions to the deaf audience. She describes herself as hard of hearing, with her hearing loss in the moderately severe range. Regina is originally from New Orleans. She received her Bachelors’ degree from University of Maryland in Dance, and earned a Master of Performance Arts Management degree at Columbia College here in Chicago. For Tribes, I thought it appropriate to share with you the experience of someone with hearing loss.
Aaron Carter
Director of New Play Development

ASL is my first language.
I grew up in a deaf family where my mother was raised in oral communication and my sister was born deaf but learned sign language. I was raised to learn how to sign, and I learned how to speak English after taking speech therapy.
My mother used to be a dancer and she adores listening to music with vibration. Her decibel range of hearing loss has been in a severe range. She does not wear a hearing aid. She feels that a hearing aid will not benefit her because she communicates with her deaf children. I learned how to dance through my mother and one day, I did a dance performance in elementary school. They played a song that I knew the dance movement. It was Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” My mother and sister would watch his videos and I would stand up and learn his moves. One of the professors, Ms. Smith, recognized my dance skills and she sought to speak to my mother about placing me into a dance studio with her daughter.
It was during the summer of 1998, while I was in New York City, that I experienced my first real taste of struggle about my hearing loss. From that point, my drive and determination to succeed as a professional “Deaf” dancer was made firm. Let me back up a bit and explain the situation which I just mentioned. I walked into the dance studio preparing to go through a variety of dance moves as set by the professor leading the audition. A jury at one dance company who would be evaluating the dancers on skill and overall presentation was observing this audition. Before beginning, the professors had notified the jury that I was deaf, so they would know to face me when speaking to allow me a chance to read lips, since an interpreter was not present. The class/audition began with the professor yelling out the count, “5.…6.…7.…8.…!”
We moved as quickly as we could to capture all the movements. But, I was unable to capture all the moves because the professor had forgotten about the need to face me. I was unable to read the instructor’s lips and as a result fell behind and could not keep up no matter how hard I tried. At that moment, I just stopped as the feelings of frustration over came me. I realized that I just needed to try my best to observe the dance movement and feeling the vibration from the dance floor.
Despite my efforts, I was not accepted into the dance company. It was that rejection that was my first taste of struggle and my struggle fueled my desire to a new level of excellence. While I continued to elevate my skills as a dance professional I realized that the company I had auditioned for continued to seem disinterested in making the necessary accommodations to incorporate a professional deaf dancer into their company. Their closed door attitude helped me to develop my open door attitude. In the future, I would hope to develop a company that would allow deaf and hard of hearing dancers to become a part of a dance company at any level.
My new focus became developing greater skills. As part of developing my skills I knew that college would be vital. I applied to Gallaudet University, which is the only Deaf university. While there, I found that they had a dance company in which deaf and hard of hearing students studied and performed. I took advantage of this opportunity and went to an audition. I was accepted into the dance company and was immediately immersed in developing how to improve my abilities. Having no communication barriers, my skills and confidence level went through the roof and it gave me hope that I could go on more auditions for the large professional dance companies around the US.
On one occasion, while I was a student at Gallaudet University (University for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) I was in a dance performance there. After the performance we were invited to a reception, people were talking and I was just standing there and looking around. A person walked up to me and began speaking to me. I couldn’t understand a word because I wasn’t wearing a hearing aid. When the person tapped me on the shoulder and started talking quickly, I had to stop and notify the person, that I am hard of hearing. They were shocked. “How can you be hard of hearing, when you perform so well?”