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By Antoine Hunter
An award-winning dancer/choreographer and beloved figure in the Bay Area, Antoine Hunter has danced with Savage Jazz Dance Company, Nuba Dance Theatre, and Robert Moses’ Kin dance company. He founded Urban Jazz Dance Company and is co-director/founder of Iron Tri-Angel Urban Ballet. He teaches at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, Dance-A- Vision Entertainment, and Ross Dance Company, where he also serves as rehearsal director. Hunter has performed and taught in Rome, London, Cuba, and Africa.
Photo by Matt Haber, Courtesy Hunter.
I am an African-American Deaf dance artist. My desire for dance began at the age of 4. I can remember seeing everyone break dancing and I wanted to try. I got on the cardboard and did a spin and a kick—but then there was a bam!—I wound up in the hospital with an injured knee.
That knee injury was painful, but not as much as the idea of not ever being able to dance again. My passion for dance was put on hold until I was 8 and my mother took me to see Oakland Ballet. I was so in awe of the dancers’ poise, grace, and their ability to use their bodies to tell a story. They touched the hearts and souls of the audience—of me.
But my mother couldn’t afford to take me to any kind of dance class. We were very poor. At the same time, I found it harder and harder to fit in with the other kids—to be understood, to be heard.
I would want to play outside with the other kids, and their parents wouldn’t let them play with me. Maybe it was because I was black. I wanted to hang out with the other kids of color, but they didn’t want to play with me either. Maybe it was because I was Deaf. I tried to socialize with deaf people, and they didn’t want to hang out with me either.
I began to feel very alone and, at one point, suicidal. But soon, there was a beacon of hope. Dance. It wasn’t until I enrolled in Skyline High School in 1997 that my passion for dance was reignited. At first, the classes were very hard and I felt intimidated. And just like during my childhood years, no one wanted to dance with me. But then my dance teacher, Ms. Dawn James, approached me and told me to create a solo. I decided to dance to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
When the music started, I began rocking my head side to side as if a boat were rocking me. I grabbed my shoulders as if I were cold and alone in the dark. Then, letting the music take me over, I was moving all over the room. During the instrumental break of the song, I began to dance as if lightning, fire, wind, water, and finally the earth were attacking me.
When I finished dancing, everyone had so many different expressions on their faces—even before they clapped. Many people told me that they could understand me and feel me.
From that day forward, I went on to learn other “languages of dance”—like African, ballet, and so much more. Soon I began to teach these languages to others. Dance is so powerful. Not only does it have the ability to bring people together, but it also has the power to heal.
I dance because I’m happy. I dance because I’m free. Lordy hallelujah, for the spirit of dance has saved me!