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The Meaning Behind Champion Nyle Dimarco’s Freestyle Dance on the Dancing with the Stars Finale

Deaf Culture   |  Wednesday, May 25, 2016

By Jillian Winn

Nyle DiMarco, who just happens to be deaf, was awarded the Mirror Ball Trophy and crowned the champion of Dancing with the Stars, Season 22, with his partner Peta Murgatroyd.


Nyle can’t hear the music or feel its vibrations. Like the other dancers, he relies on lots of practice, but Nyle and Peta also use visual cues, signals, scratches on the back, and hand squeezes to stay in sync with each other. When practicing, Peta also taps the tempo of the music on Nyle’s shoulder so he can sense the rhythm. Peta said Nyle has a secret advantage over competitors, "They get freaked out by all the noise," she said. "There's hundreds of people in the ballroom. So Nyle can't hear any of that. He's in his own world with me. And it's kind of perfect."

Peta started to learn American Sign Language (ASL) as soon as she became partners with Nyle. “The first week that we worked together, she was already starting to learn my language and my culture,” Nyle said. The pair developed a deep connection throughout the season because they each had to learn how to communicate using each other’s unique languages - Nyle through American Sign Language and Peta through dance. Nyle said, "It really was about learning about each other's worlds and I think that message was really strong."

Nyle chose a special song, with a special meaning, for his freestyle dance on the finale of Dancing with the Stars. He chose the song “Sound of Silence” covered by the heavy metal band Disturbed and originally by Simon and Garfunkel. Nyle and dance partner Peta worked with contemporary choreographer Talia Favia to make the dance a moving performance focused on storytelling. Nyle said, “Our dance together is for million’s of deaf people, this dance needs to reflect all of them.”

Watch Nyle and Peta's freestyle dance to the Sound of Silence (unfortunately, this video from ABC is not captioned):

The song’s lyrics start with, “Hello darkness, my old friend,” and in a letter to the band Disturbed where Nyle asked for permission to use the song for their freestyle dance, he explained, “we the Deaf people underwent a terrible history and we are still stuck in the darkness. The darkness of oppression that your song truly reverberated to me.”

Nyle DiMarco's letter to Disturbed asking for permission to use their song

My name is Nyle DiMarco. I am Deaf. I'm the fourth generation and I have over 25 Deaf members in my family. I am now in the semi finals towards the Mirror Ball on Dancing With The Stars. I am writing this letter to let you know how much your song "Sound of Silence" means so much to me and my Deaf community and that I would love to dance to your song for the finals. I feel this is important for you to know that we the Deaf people underwent a terrible history and we are still stuck in the darkness. The darkness of oppression that your song truly reverberated to me.

Before the year 1880, we the Deaf people lived normal lives. We were perceived normal. We held political positions. We joined the army. We had jobs. We had an education through sign language that greatly benefited to our visual eyes and silent ears. It was until the Milan Conference in 1880 that led to language deprivation and... ultimately our culture, our job opportunities, and our intelligence. We were tortured. Our ancestors underwent electric shock chairs, surgeries (without anesthesia), and so many torturing methods just to help us regain our hearing. We were also punished if we used sign language. We were whipped. Slapped with our rulers. Abused. We were required to try and learn to speak (and that always, always miserably failed).

We also lost jobs. Many now perceive us as disabled, that we can't serve the army, hold political positions, nor teach.

Because of the conference that almost led to the death of the Deaf culture (and was basically genocide and cultural-genocide), we are still trying to get out of the dark. I just founded Nyle DiMarco Foundation and our focus is on Deaf kids. We are working with state and U.S. senators to write and pass the bill that requires bilingualism (American Sign Language and English) because it was recently proven by science that it will benefit the Deaf child a lot more than just English only. I am using my celebrity platform and especially on DWTS for good cause.

With your song... we are planning on showing my history's terrible times through dancing... and to your powerful and moving song. We feel that with you, your song, and us, we will make/change history and help people better understand our history, and build allies all over the world to help better Deaf lives.

Help us resurface from our darkness, from the systematic oppression. There is power in Sound of Silence.

We hope you will grant us the permission. Lets change history together!

Nyle DiMarco

The song also talks about “people talking without speaking” and “people hearing without listening” and just as Nyle and Peta were able to masterly story tell through their moving dance, the Deaf are able to communicate through their beautiful sign language, but it isn’t always easy. Nyle explained “people see what we’re saying, but we’re not listened to.”

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba said, “In twenty-two seasons, that is the best dance I have ever seen… what’s so profound about it is not only do I see a man that wants to prove he can dance, in this incredible way and this new approach to how you connect with all of us and the music, but I also see a man that is proving he can change the world through dance.” Inaba even signed to Nyle when giving some of her final feedback, “Because you've spoken to us so eloquently in our language of dance, I want to say this to you and I hope I get it right." Then she stood up and signed in ASL, “Thank you for sharing what's in your heart.”

Inaba reflected earlier in the season “that sign language is a kind of a dance -- it is a movement that expresses. So in a way, he’s been dancing with his hands his whole life. I think this is part of why his performances are so deeply moving. When he dances, there is a hush that comes over the ballroom that is not just about the respect we all feel for the fact that he is dancing without actually hearing the music, but is also about being in awe of his powerful connection to the movement, his heartfelt storytelling.”

Peta was overcome with emotion after they performed their freestyle dance and said, “What he has done every single week out here is nothing short of extraordinary.”

As Nyle said in his letter to Disturbed, “There is power in Sound of Silence.”

Resources

 

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Interpreter Q & A: Giving Feedback to Interpreters

Interpreter Q & A: Giving Feedback to Interpreters

Interpreter Tips   |  Monday, May 16, 2016

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

Dear BC,

Interpreters who are not easy to lip-read can be rough for me to understand. It makes it difficult for me to know the tone of the conversation. A lack of proper facial expressions just further compounds the problem. Is this something I should point out to even a nationally certified interpreter?

Sincerely,
Trying to be constructive

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

Based on my experience, I think most interpreters – nationally certified, pre-certified, ITP students – appreciate feedback and are willing to attempt to immediately put the feedback to use. Being nationally certified does not mean that an interpreter is unable to benefit from suggestions, feedback or exploration of new ideas.

If the interpreter is difficult to lip-read (and that is something that person might not be able to change), I think it is fine to tell the interpreter that you will be relying even more on facial expression during the meeting. I always appreciate that kind of heads-up because it gives me a better take on the deaf person’s perspective and I can attempt to adjust my work accordingly.

Certified or not, let interpreters know what you’re thinking.

Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

I feel that any time you are not happy about what the interpreter is doing; your concerns should be made known. This is especially crucial when the delivery of the message from the interpreter interferes with complete comprehension of the message.

Your example of not being able to lip-read is one issue and not having any visible facial expressions which help clarify the message is another issue. Each issue should be addressed as they are both significant issues to be looked at. It would be appropriate for you and the interpreter to look at each issue and see how improvements/modifications can be made.

A nationally certified interpreter should definitely be told of these issues because they need to adjust their skills to meet different needs of different consumers. If they are not meeting your needs, you can feel better about telling them because they have invested a lot in the process of becoming a nationally certified interpreter and usually they have the Deaf consumer’s best interests at heart.

What's your perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
 

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about Brenda  |  Articles by Brenda

Signing Savvy Featured as 1 of 15 Pure Michigan Businesses

Signing Savvy Featured as 1 of 15 Pure Michigan Businesses

Site News   |  Thursday, May 5, 2016

By Jillian Winn

You may not know this, but Signing Savvy is based in Michigan. That does not mean the signs on Signing Savvy are regional to Michigan or that only people from Michigan work for Signing Savvy, just that the company itself was founded and exists physically in Michigan. Of course, we are an online business so we connect with you wherever you are. So far, over 10 million people have used Signing Savvy - the majority of people who use Signing Savvy are from the U.S. and Canada (where ASL is most used), but people from over 200 countries have used Signing Savvy. It is all of you that keep us passionate and working hard to continue to improve Signing Savvy.

We are excited to announce Signing Savvy was chosen as 1 of 15 businesses in the state of Michigan to be featured in a webisode through the PBS program, START UP. We are proud to share our story with you - watch the Pure Michigan / Michigan Economic Development Corporation video on Signing Savvy:

NOTE: Captions are available for this video, you just have to turn them on if your computer’s settings do not already have them on by default (rollover the video and click on the "CC" in the playback bar).

From the start, our mission has been to provide the most comprehensive online sign language resource for parents, educators, interpreters, students, or anyone interested in American Sign Language (ASL). We say "comprehensive" because Signing Savvy includes ASL signs, regional signs, and English signs - each sign is clearly labeled with what type of sign it is and you can see multiple sign variations for words, when available. We have an Advisory Board made up of experts around the country that give us feedback and advise us. We continue to shoot and reshoot signs and add features to the Signing Savvy website because we are passionate about being a high-quality, comprehensive resource that helps people.

We're excited to be working on some cool new updates and features (including one that was mentioned in the video)... stay tuned for the release in the coming months!

 

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Guide to Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: 0 to 6 Months

Guide to Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: 0 to 6 Months

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, April 26, 2016

By Jillian Winn

It’s easy to start signing with your baby and it’s amazing to be able to communicate with them through sign before they are able to talk. To get started, simply use signs when communicating with your child. There isn’t a "right" way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life. There is no limit to how many signs you should introduce at a time, so sign as much as you are comfortable with. In particular, fluent signers and parents with deaf children should sign as much as possible.

This is just one example of how you could introduce signs to a baby that is 0 to 6 months old and comes from the prospective of hearing parents with hearing children.

Who lives in the household and who do they interact with the most?

When we had our first son, our household included my husband and I and our new son, so we signed MOM and DAD to him. Now we have a new baby boy, so we also sign BABY and BROTHER.

If you have others that interact with your baby on a regular basis, you can also sign their names, such as GRANDPA, GRANDMA, AUNT, UNCLE, etc. Our family doesn’t live in the same city as us, so we mostly stuck to signing just MOM and DAD. We would sign in context to when we were talking about that person or when they were in the room. For example, "DAD is on his way home." "Look, DAD is home!"

When we would call family, we would use the sign then as well. For example, we would say, "We’re going to call GRANDPA and GRANDMA now," and sign GRANDPA and GRANDMA. We would sign GRANDPA and GRANDMA again when we were on the phone with them. We would often do video calls (FaceTime or Skype) and point to them and say and sign, "That’s GRANDPA. That’s GRANDMA."

Don’t forget about your pets, they’re a part of your household too! We have a cat, so we would sign CAT when he came in the room with us. 

Think about anyone that your baby interacts with on a regular or daily basis. Who watches them during the day? A parent? A family member? A BABYSITTER?

What activities do they do the most?

Think about what your baby does the most throughout the day – these are the things that are most common to your baby’s world and the best signs to start with.

Newborns do very little – mostly they eat/drink milk, sleep, and go to the bathroom.

The most common sign we would use is MILK.  Every time our son would have a feeding or bottle we would sign MILK. We would say, "Are you hungry, do you want some MILK?" While feeding him, we would say and sign, "Here’s your MILK."

We would also sign SLEEP. "Are you ready to go to SLEEP?" "Have a good night SLEEP." "SLEEP tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite." "How did you SLEEP?"

Newborns also go to the bathroom… a lot! When we would change our son’s diaper, we would sign POTTY / BATHROOM. You could sign DIAPER, but I found signing DIAPER to be a little impractical because it is signed at the waist and either I was holding him or he was on the changing table, my waist would typically be below my son’s eye level and I wanted him to be able to see when I signed, so using the sign POTTY just worked better for us.

We would sign BATH – "Are you ready for your BATH?" "Time for your BATH!" "You’re taking a BATH" "Isn’t it fun to take a BATH?"

As the baby grows and does more things during the day, you can incorporate more signs into your daily usage, like the sign PLAY

Introduce new signs contextually, when something is happening or about to happen. For example, if you are taking your baby to daycare, start signing SCHOOL the week before daycare starts (lots of people call daycare "school," but use whatever terminology you prefer to call it). Say, "Next week you’re going to SCHOOL." "Today you’re going to SCHOOL." "This is your SCHOOL."

Fingerspelling and the Alphabet

Fingerspelling is an important part of American Sign Language. Fingerspelling is signing the individual letters of the alphabet to spell out words. If you’re not sure what the sign is for an individual English word, you should think about the meaning of the word because that may help you think of a sign has that same meaning, however, there are many English words that do not have an ASL sign and should be fingerspelled. Names are often fingerspelled, such as the name of a company or of a person that does not have a sign name.

There are a number of ways you can introduce the alphabet and fingerspelling to your child.

  • Sign the Alphabet song
  • Read the book Chika Chika Boom Boom and sign the letters as they are mentioned throughout the book
  • Sign names – say, "Your name is ________" and fingerspell their name. You can also say, "Your name is spelled _______." You can tell them other people’s names and spell them, like siblings’ names, etc. Don't forget about your pet's names too!

While spelling is likely beyond the cognitive abilities of this age range, it never hurts to start to lay the foundation earlier and I like the excuse to practice my fingerspelling! Children do recognize the shapes that you are making and will learn what a name looks like over time and will eventually realize the sign is made up of individual letters. It’s not expected, or is it the point, that they understand individual letters at this young age, but what’s important is that introducing fingerspelling continues to enhance communication and language skills.

Again, remember these are just suggestions. There isn’t a "right" way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life. And keep doing it!

More Resources to Help You Get Started

Signing Savvy Wordlist:

Baby Signs - 0 to 6 months old Wordlist

Printable Poster:

American Sign Language Alphabet

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.

 

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 1

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 1

Learning Tips   |  Friday, April 8, 2016

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings. This is the first article of this series, but watch for more to come!

Hello! I’m Brenda Cartwright (BC) and today’s fun topic is: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the difference. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter. Enjoy!

1. Sick vs. Disease

You can remember the signs for SICK and DISEASE because your extended middle fingers point at the areas where we often feel sick - at your forehead and stomach. For SICK, touch your forehead and stomach at the same time. DISEASE is similar, but you make small circles in and out from the body.

sick
disease

2. Ask vs. Question

The signs for ASK and QUESTION can look similar, but for ASK you make a bent motion with your index finger as it moves in the direction of who you are asking the question of, while when you sign QUESTION you make the outline of a question mark in the air.

ask
question

3. Senate vs. Committee

SENATE and COMMITTEE look similar because they are both ASL initialized signs of the sign for MEMBER. The S-hand is used when signing SENATE and the C-hand is used when signing COMMITTEE.

Senate
Committee

4. Science vs. Experiment

To remember these signs, think of combining the contents of two beakers or test tubes by pouring them into a single container. SCIENCE uses A-hands and EXPERIMENT is an ASL initialized sign of SCIENCE that uses E-hands. CHEMISTRY (C-hands) and BIOLOGY (B-hands) are also ASL initialized signs of SCIENCE.

Science
Experiment

5. Convince me vs. Convince you

Convince is a directional sign. To sign CONVINCE ME, your B-hands make a chopping motion at the same time towards your neck and to sign CONVINCE YOU the motion is done outward, towards the person you are trying to convince.

Convince me
Convince you

6. Pray vs. Request

PRAY and REQUEST are similar, but for PRAY your hands are together and make a downward motion in front of your chest, while REQUEST starts with your hands away from your body and then they move in to come together and make the PRAY sign.

Pray
Request

7. Attention vs. Focus

ATTENTION has both open flat hands start by the eyes and make small forward movements, while your hands when signing FOCUS move forward and down as they focus in on a point.

Attention
Focus

8. Russia vs. Brag

RUSSIA and BRAG are both signed at the waist, but RUSSIA uses 5-hands (think of placing the hands at the waist during a Russian dance), while BRAG alternates Y-hands (think of strutting around).

Russia
Brag

9. Drink (as in "drink something non-alcoholic") vs. Drink (as in "drink liquor")

It’s easy to get the different signs for DRINK confused, but signing you need a drink can have two very different meanings depending on what sign you use. The two signs use the same movement and placement, but DRINK (as in "drink something non-alcoholic") uses a C-hand, while DRINK (as in "drink liquor") uses a modified C-hand with three fingers.

Drink (water)
Drink (alcohol)

10. Don't mind vs. Don't care

DON’T MIND and DON’T CARE both start at the nose and move away from the face, but DON’T MIND uses the index finger, while DON’T CARE starts as a flat O-hand and opens up.

Don't mind
Don't care

11. Glasses vs. Gallaudet

This example shows that small differences in movement matter. For both signs, the G-hand starts open and closes as it pulls back - there is one movement for GALLAUDET and two movements for GLASSES. You can remember that the sign for GALLAUDET is like the sign for GLASSES because Thomas Gallaudet wore glasses.

Glasses
Gallaudet

12. Empty vs. Available

This is another example of how small differences in movement matter. For both signs the middle finger slides out along the back of the non-dominant hand - there is one movement for EMPTY and two movements for AVAILABLE.

Empty
Available

13. Sad vs. Friendly

Facial expressions are important when conveying meaning in sign language, but especially when it comes to signing emotions. When signing SAD, the open 5 hands slowly slide down the face, while for FRIENDLY they make a fluttering motion while moving up and away from the face.

Sad
Friendly

14. March vs. Funeral

A similar movement is made when signing MARCH and FUNERAL, but MARCH uses 4-hands with the palms down marching out (think of your fingers as two rows of (four) band members marching together in sync in a parade), while FUNERAL uses upright V-hands (remember your fingers point up by thinking of them as the legs of cartoon characters - they always die with their legs/feet sticking up in the air).

March
Funeral

These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 8 (page 98) from Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda Cartwright and Sue Bahleda. Check out the book for more ASL Activities and watch for more examples from this series: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

 

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about Brenda  |  Articles by Brenda

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