Many of the students in the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind Dance Troupe can't hear music or feel its beat.
Have you ever tried dancing to silence? Hard, isn't it?
Imagine if you had never heard music. Dancing would be even harder. Yet that's what the students do in the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind Dance Troupe.
Although some of the students aren't completely deaf, they all have considerable hearing loss. Some can neither hear nor feel the beat.
How do they do it?
"Students have varying degrees of deafness. Some can cue off the music. Others cue off each other or cue from me," said Cheryl Johnson, sponsor and instructor for the group, which is based at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.
"We practice enough that audiences often forget that the kids are deaf and can't hear the music."
Bonnie Mueller, 18, a recent graduate of the school who was class salutatorian, was in the dance troupe. She is hard of hearing, so she can hear the music.
"My first performance, for a women's federation club in Orlando, was my favorite performance," said Mueller, who lives in Pinellas Park. "My instructor said there were about 800 screaming women there. You never forget your first performance." Preparing for performances requires hours of practice, where the students learn to count out the rhythm and time their movements.
Students must be juniors or seniors at the school to participate in the dance troupe. They perform several times each month during the school year, about 30 performances a year throughout Florida and in Georgia, and dance to everything from '50s music to country and Broadway tunes.
Established in 1972, the Dance Troupe is a fine-arts course at the school. Through their performances, especially those at other schools, the students promote deaf awareness, Johnson said.
"The troupe started off with the cheerleaders signing the national anthem," Johnson said. "Then requests started coming in for signing more music. Some of the music lent itself to dancing rather than just signing, and a new program began."
Many members of the troupe are excellent athletes and high achievers overall. Mueller, for example, is a Deaf All-American who plays basketball and volleyball and plans to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine. She hopes to be a teacher someday.
"The dance troupe is a lot of fun. You get to experience things you wouldn't get to otherwise," she said. "We went to a naval base once, and we got to see what it looks like. And you get out of school with your friends."
Johnson said instructing the dance troupe is a rewarding experience. "It gives me a whole different perspective on the students outside of a core class."
For information on the dance troupe and its performance schedule, call 904 827-2200 or go to www.fsdb.k12.fl.us/events/dancetroupe Courtney Baker, 17, is a senior at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg.