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Deft deaf dancers feel the beat

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On Tuesday FCC Angkor hosted a one-off performance by the renowned Epic Arts, the disability arts charity based in Kampot. Four young male dancers – three deaf and one a wheelchair user – performed three integrated dance routines before a short talk was given on Epic Arts’ work.

The performance was part of a five-day tour of Cambodia taking in Phnom Penh, Battambang and Kampong Speu.

The dance style combined contemporary with traditional Khmer moves such as the monkey dance but, as artistic consultant and co-founder Katie Goad explains, the choreography was worked out collaboratively.

“It’s very much about what’s appropriate for each person’s body,” she says. “So they’ll create something and then we look at it and rework it. It’s not about copy what I’m doing from the front – it has to come from them so they dance it with conviction.” Goad explains that a lot of the movement is through signing, or moving the eyes in a certain way so that the deaf dancers can recognise the music cues.

“They feel the music,” she says. “It’s like if there’s a strong bass and they put their hand on the speaker they can feel a vibration. They’re more attuned to that. So it’s all through feeling, and looking at each other – a heightened sense of feeling and eyes.”

Two of the routines, Samba and I Want the Hat, were choreographed around music written by students from Singapore, where Epic Arts performed last year. The third piece, Monkey Hip Hop, was created by the dancers themselves.

Goad, herself a former dancer who trained at London’s Laban Centre, feels dance is a “really good medium to bring people together”.

“You don’t need language. For example, if we’re trying to connect a deaf and a blind person - how do we speak? I’m doing this, they can’t see me. But through the communication of touch and movement, it’s a whole language and you see extraordinary things happening. It’s a way of releasing people, helping them discover what they can do.

She says Epic Arts is trying to help people change their mindset about disability, especially in Cambodia.

“We want to get these people on stage,” she says. “Celebrated for who they are, for their skills and respected in their families and communities.”

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