UNT dance major hopes to open dance company accessible to deaf students

UNT dance major hopes to open dance company accessible to deaf students

UNT dance major hopes to open dance company accessible to deaf students
September 08
13:24 2019

Performing in a silent theater full of people, dance performance junior Emerson Braun is overcoming all obstacles placed in the way of himself and his passion. 

Braun has been dancing ever since he was ten years old and has been deaf ever since the age of 17. Braun lost his hearing due to an illness that deteriorated the nerves in his ears, causing him to be completely deaf. He said he did not let this get in the way of his passion for dance, as he did not become a dance major until after the loss of his hearing.  

“After a while, I decided to try to dance again and do what I wanted to do,” Braun said. “I don’t necessarily need [hearing], I can feel [the music] in the floor and watch people and get timing a lot of different ways.” 

Braun became a dance major after losing his hearing and transferring from TWU to UNT his sophomore year. While this was a drastic change in his life, he said, he had support from his family and friends to pursue his passion. 

Dance major Emerson Braun poses at the dance building on Aug. 30, 2019. Image by: Isabel Anes

“I didn’t really tell a lot of people that I was [changing my major],” Braun said. “I’m one of those people that keeps my plans inside until they go okay. My parents never discouraged me because they always want to be supportive of whatever I do.”

Interpreters are provided for Braun, in all of his class and for other deaf students at the university. During his dance classes, interpreters are able to show Braun the style, flow and rhythms of the music. Braun also uses his physical feeling of the music in order to be able to perform. He also has hearing aids that allow him to help figure out the different sounds of the music, which he said makes performances less challenging. 

After becoming completely deaf, Braun said he was quick to bounce back from the sadness of his loss, encouraging himself to keep pushing forward.

“I was really sad for a couple months,” Braun said. “Then I decided, well, if this is life, okay.” 

Dance senior Claire Gingras said Braun inspires other people within the dance community. Gingras has worked with Braun for a year now and said working with him has taught her to step outside of her comfort zone with her dancing.

“Working with [Braun] always prods me into dancing and choreographing outside of the box,” Gingras said. “I often settle into a comfy place relying on musicality to guide my practice, but dancing with [Braun] as a peer, or having him as one of my cast members, I’m reminded to embrace other aspects of technique and composition. Whether this is incorporating visual cues, clear dynamic shifts, or sometimes even ASL into my practice, I always find new ways to express myself through dance based on discoveries I make with [Braun]. ”

One of Brauns biggest inspirations is Antoine Hunter. Hunter is a deaf dancer based out of Los Angeles who has a deaf company fully accessible to other deaf students called Urban Jazz Dance Company. After graduation, Braun has the goal of opening his own fully accessible dance and theater company to help and inspire kids just like him. 

Having a fully accessible dance company can be a challenging thing, Braun said, since many dance terms are French. Because of this, Braun has been working with his interpreters to set up a signing system that will be easier to sign common dance terms. According to Bruan’s Interpreter, Braun has been doing most of the work when it comes to creating new dance terms in Sign Language. 

“I’m setting up a sign system for ballet specifically in America, taking the French signs for the French words and using that for the English sign system,” Braun said. “I’ve been working with my interpreters and a couple different people from Facebook that know French sign language and setting up these signs so you can get the information from the sign immediately, rather than getting it related to an interpreter who may or may not know what it is then having to finger spell it. Having a sign and a movement for [terms] would be great.” 

Braun’s interpreter said being able to trust each other when interpreting is very important in order to be able to throughly communicate and said is a special thing to be able to do for someone. Braun’s Interpreter enjoys being able to work with Braun as a dancer. The trust built between the two of them has made being able to effectively communicate the music easier for the both of them.

“As an interpreter it’s really special when you’re able to click with your client on a personal level,” Braun’s interpreter said. “Working the way we do requires a lot of trust & necessitates that we constantly be in sync with one another. Thankfully, we’re very intentional about maintaining that trust & comfortability with one another. It’s honestly an honor to go alongside him & watch him do what he loves.”

Interpreting for a dance student is not the “traditional” way of interpreting, according to Braun’s Interpreter, but because of it she has been able to learn more about the language and community.

“This has been a really unique experience,” Braun’s Interpreter said. ” I am constantly learning things from both Emerson & the other dance students. It’s also not a “traditional” way of interpreting. I’m constantly moving around and always have to find the best place to stand where I can be seen but not get in the way. It really has stretched me as an interpreter and definitely required that I think outside of the box on multiple occasions.”

Braun said being deaf gets in the way of being employed and being treated as an equal due to many people in the dance community not being familiar with deaf culture. 

“Recently I’ve been applying to jobs and they just never emailed me back,” Braun said. “I used to get job offers all the time and now people don’t want to hire me or deal with the disability. If I want to go dancing at another studio, they won’t want to provide an interpreter. It’s hard to get people to get an interpreter and then it’s hard to get people to talk to you like you’re a person until you have one.” 

Braun is still learning the language of American Sign Language (ASL) everyday. Since he has not always been deaf, ASL is still a new language to him, however, Braun is an advocate for making ASL a more common language. 

“Deaf people exist,” Braun said. “It’s really isolating being the only deaf person in a space, even with lip reading, because if you turn around then you don’t know what’s happening anymore. It’s very important because deaf people are everywhere.” 

Although Braun said his life has changed in many ways, he remains optimistic for his future and continues to pursue what he loves doing the most.

“There is always another way to do something,” Braun said. “You don’t have to do it the same way everyone else before [sic] has done it. You just have to finish with a good result. If you are deaf then figure out the arts, it’s a lot of fun.”

Featured image: Junior dance major Emerson Braun stands against a bar and mirror in a dance room on Aug. 30, 2019. Image by: Isabel Anes

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Bayleigh Swanton

Bayleigh Swanton

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1 Comment

  1. Moniqa Paullet
    Moniqa Paullet September 12, 16:19

    What a cool story!

    Reply to this comment

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