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January 24, 2003

Dance gives deaf Korean troupe self-esteem

From: Tri-Valley Herald, CA - 24 Jan 2003


IN KOREA, parents discourage their deaf children from using sign language in public because they don't want people to know they are "handicapped" -- a label given to those who cannot hear.

"They are seen as second-class citizens," said Jung Youl, a deaf instructor in Korea, speaking through an interpreter.

Such a label gives kids low self-esteem, often crushing their chance for success in a country with tenuous opportunity even for those viewed as "normal."

It is different in the United States, Youl has learned.

She has spent the past 11 months working alongside instructors at the California School for the Deaf, learning advanced teaching techniques that she will take back to her native country later this month.

Before she leaves, however, Youl will get a chance to give something back.

An all-deaf Korean dance troupe she started in 1969 is visiting the Bay Area this weekend for several exhibition performances, including a community event Saturday in Santa Clara.

Youl began the troupe at her school in Taegu, South Korea, to incorporate the senses in communicating artistically to audiences. But what started as a school lesson has evolved into a professional dance group that performs throughout Korea, visiting prisons, military bases and community events.

It has become a visual example, she said, of a value instilled at the Fremont school: Deaf people are capable of doing anything they set their minds to.

"Hearing people can now recognize that these (deaf children) do not fit the stereotype," Youl said. "They are able to see that they are capable of performing at this level."

Their talent has been an inspiration to the Fremont children, as well, said David West, director of outreach.

After the nine Korean dancers performed Wednesday for high school and elementary school children, the Fremont students could not stop asking questions, he said.

"They were enthralled," West said. "At first, some of the students didn't realize they were deaf. ... We eventually had to run the high school kids out (of the theater)."

Staff writer Melissa Evans covers religion and culture for The Argus. She can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or .

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