I accustomed to dislike I highly praise it. As a deaf woman, I rarely felt comfortable in clubs or parties. I have had so many experiences of being excluded, unwanted attention, sexual harassment, and assault that I have come to view those spaces as dangerous and unsafe. Many of my deaf and disabled friends felt the same way.
But I've always loved dancing. I started when I was 6 years old, skipping and twirling everywhere I went, from walking down the street with my parents to waiting in line at the town pool. I was engrossed in watching dance videos. I asked the principal if we could use the school hall for a dance during lunch break and dragged my hearing-impaired classmates there.
I was born profoundly deaf in a small rural town in northern New South Wales, and am the only deaf person in my family. Doctors had no idea why I had become deaf. When I entered high school, I suddenly stopped dancing because I thought I would never have a chance to dance professionally. Apart from when the Australian Deaf Theater comes to our town every year, I have never had a Deaf artist to look up to. But everything changed when he saw Bangara's performance when he was 20 years old. that's what i want to do, my love for dance suddenly returned. Their celebration of Indigenous culture and language made me realize that I could celebrate my Deaf culture, community, and language through dance.
The world of dance and the world of deafness both dominate my life, but they are often far apart. As a deaf professional dancer for 10 years, I constantly move back and forth between both communities. I am often the only deaf dancer, and I still struggle to navigate a world that has historically prioritized the disabled and centered the deaf. Even if you have a sign language interpreter, you must respond according to the person who can hear. Advocating for your access needs can be exhausting. It's impossible to keep up with the jokes. It takes a little more time for your body to absorb the rhythm of the music. I don't wear hearing aids, so I rely on body memory, peripheral vision, and observing other dancers' bodies to learn the choreography.
In the Deaf world, I feel isolated at times as one of the few professional dancers in the community. When a deaf person asks what I do, it's not uncommon for my answer to be perplexing. I was amazed at how many times I've seen deaf people say, “Dance isn't for me, because I'm deaf.” However, deaf people are often told that we cannot do things. It is sad that dance is often dismissed as inaccessible to deaf and disabled people.
It wasn't until my 30s that I had a series of epiphanies that changed my feelings about raves, my body, my desire for self-expression, freedom, sexuality, and connection.
The first was an exhilarating, euphoric evening at the afterparty for the International Deaf Dance Festival in San Francisco. The dance floor was crowded with deaf people. Even the DJ was deaf. We coached each other through dance routines, took turns on stage, and gave instructions in International Sign Language.
Later, while traveling in Cuba, I met some locals who invited me to dance. She was two weeks removed from Hurricane Irma, so we descended the wet stairs and entered the dripping cave. It felt like I had stepped into a scene from Dirty Dancing. As we danced and moved together, there was a sense of collective, pure joy, swirling around slippery floors, sweaty skin, and salsa.
And when I visited the KitKat Club in Berlin, I learned how people use the club space as an exercise in sensual exploration. I witnessed a shibari performance and the woman's ecstatic expression aroused unexpected emotions in me. She remembers the woman checking with me to see if I was okay and having a good time. I was shocked by the gesture. I felt valued and felt there was a shared sense of responsibility among people to care for each other.
These three experiences stayed with me for a long time. But they also left me with questions. Could the raves I once hated also become a place of release, solace, and healing? I was interested in how the world of dance and the deaf world could be brought together to create a sense of connection, community, and empowerment.
So I created SPIN, an interactive dance rave event with deaf hosts and DJs. SPIN is an invitation. Provocation. experiment; it is a work of ritual, survival, rebellion, surrender, curiosity, and playfulness. SPIN premiered at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2018, revived in Germany and the UK in 2023, and at this year's Sydney Festival. I feel a new yearning and desire for people to come together and dance. I know why, because dance saved my life.
Anna Seymour is a dancer and founder of SPIN.