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Performing arts: Music, dance and drama

Photo: With some adjustments and awareness, performing arts can be accessible and fun for deaf young people.

Taking part in performing arts can help deaf children and young people feel more confident, learn new skills and make friends. They can be a great opportunity for your child to get creative, express themselves and have fun!

Dad Gilson saw how much fun his profoundly deaf daughter Maisie (6) had when she got to act in a short film.

“For Maisie the best bit about being in the film was being treated like a star. She was really well looked after by the crew. She really enjoyed filming the swimming scenes and the scenes with milkshakes and ice creams in too!”

If your child dreams of taking to the stage and is interested in performing arts, here are some tips to help them get involved in a supportive, positive and accessible way.

Find a group for deaf young people

Check if there are any deaf performing arts groups near you that are already accessible and experienced in working with deaf children and young people.

Jayden (18), who is profoundly deaf, was one of the first deaf young people to win a place at his dance company.

“After seeing me and some of my other friends, the company were like ‘Deaf people are really good at dancing!’ So now they’ve been looking for more deaf people to join. It feels good to change people’s opinions.”

Think about group size

Ask if the tutor can support your child one-on-one or in small groups to allow more interaction and access to instructions.

Meet tutors in advance

You and your child should meet with the performing arts tutors before starting any sessions. Make them aware that your child is deaf, what support they need and make sure your child feels comfortable. You can also share our tips on how to make performing arts deaf-friendly for tutors.

Tracey made sure to talk to any tutors or new teachers about how they could support her moderately deaf daughter Audrey (6) during dance lessons.

“They once had a new teacher at her dance school and Audrey came home saying she was struggling to hear him. I went in and explained that sometimes he turned his back to Audrey, so now he makes sure he bobs down to her level so she can always see his face. The staff there are brilliant.”

See if any tutors, leaders or any of their staff would be interested in receiving our Deaf Awareness Training or signing up to our Deaf Friendly Standard. For more information contact us at [email protected].  

Communication tips

Your child’s tutor must be aware of their communication needs and you can share useful tips with them to help your child access their lessons.

  • Ask the tutor to find out the best way get your child’s attention. This might be waving, tapping on their shoulder or flashing lights.
  • Encourage the use of visual cues as much as possible. This could include counting using fingers or clapping to the beat of music. Using facial expressions is a great cue for performing arts activities.
  • When the tutor is delivering instructions, ask them to make sure they’re facing your child and to check your child has understood.
  • If your child has a , ask the tutor to wear it while they’re leading the session.

Tracey, mum to Audrey (6), explained how best she communicates to her dance teachers.

“Audrey’s main communication is speech but when she’s in an environment where the hearing aids take on a louder sound, for example dancing with loud music, she relies on lip-reading. She’s also quite led by people’s body language, so it’s important to communicate her needs.”

Rose Ayling-Ellis (25) is a profoundly deaf actress who stars in EastEnders. She makes sure she has an interpreter with her while filming.

“When I use Sign Supported English, it’s like thinking of two languages at the same time while performing, so a British Sign Language (BSL) monitor checks my BSL is clear on-screen. I also have a BSL interpreter on set at all times, paid for by my Access to Work.”

Using music

If the session involves music, discuss how your child can listen through their hearing technology and whether this may affect their communication needs with their tutor. Let the tutor know to avoid talking while the music is playing and that background music may make it difficult for your child to hear what else is happening.

When working with music that has lyrics ask the tutor to provide the lyrics on a piece of paper or display them before your child listens to the song. If your child is interested in singing, check out our helpful tips for tutors.

Tracey, mum to Audrey (5), explains why dancing has helped her confidence.

“For her to get up on that dance floor and not be able to hear her dance teacher’s voice over the music is a challenge that other children don’t face and yet she takes it in her stride.”

Corinne is mum to Callum, who is severely deaf.

“He’s a beautiful dancer with incredible rhythm. He also sings beautifully, which is really special for a deaf child – I didn’t know until I saw him performing in a school play. I burst into tears!”

Dancing

When your child is learning a new dance move or routine it’s helpful if the tutor demonstrates it and then lets another child go first.  This encourages your child to watch some of the other young people in their class so they know what to do when it’s their turn.

Jayden (18) is profoundly deaf.

“My mum said I’ve been dancing since I came out of her womb! I taught myself from a really young age, but my cochlear implant made a huge difference. Before, I could only feel the kicks in the music but after, I could hear it more clearly and dance to the beat. Once I got my second implant at 11, I started noticing all the other instruments too. Other people would say, ‘Oh I never heard that in the music, but you showed it to me through dance.’ Dance is the thing that calms me down when I’m stressed or upset or angry.”

Performances

For performances that involve going on stage, it can be helpful for your child to have a visual cue, such as flashing lights, a torch or a cue card, rather than an audio cue for their lines or entrances.

Discuss with the performing arts tutors about how to manage background noise backstage, especially if someone is wearing your child’s radio aid.

During her performances, Shakespearean actress Charlotte uses visual cues, a TV monitor in her dressing room and a specially designed vibrating pack which helps her to dance in time with the music.

“Nothing is impossible, I’m possible,’ that’s what I always tell my young students when I teach!”