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February 27, 2004

WILD Zappers Bring Enlightenment of Deaf Culture Through Dance

From: Baltimore Times - Baltimore,MD,USA - Feb 27, 2004

by Patreka White Baltimore Times

The interactive barrier between the hearing and the hearing impaired has gradually diminished; so many avenues of communication are being revealed.

One form of expression breaching the barrier are the Wild Zappers (WZ), an all-deaf, all-male dance company founded in 1989 by Irvine Stewart, with support of Fred Michael Beam and Warren "Wawa" Snipe. The company was formed to give deaf male dancers an opportunity to dance together and promote cultural/educational awareness through entertainment within deaf and hearing communities.

"We met and discussed the idea of an all-male dance company after being in an majority female dance company, where the women wore beautiful costumes and the men danced in tights and plain costumes. There were also few men joining the company, because many men don't want to be labeled. We created the company so that the males can be comfortable," said Fred Michael Beam, co-founder and director of the WZ.

Stewart said, "I was looking for guys like myself, with no ballet training but a heavy passion for dance."

The dance company started with just the three founders but has since grown to eight to 10 dancers in the company, ranging in age from age 18-42. Many of the dancers have professional jobs, including social work and some are college students. Some are full time staff to an organization called Invisible Hands Inc., a non profit organization founded by Fred Michael Beam, in 1997.

The organization is dedicated to the advancement of deaf and cultural awareness and to bridging the gap between the hearing and deaf communities.

"You see, we were not thinking of something big; we just do it for the fun of it. We now perform for organizations, schools, government agencies both nationally and internationally," said Beam. The WZ visited the Baltimore Museum of Art on February 1 for Black History Month Family Day.

The WZ started in Washington, D.C., but the members come from all over. The dancers offer a wide variety of performing experiences, mostly jazz, funk, and Hip Hop and hail from the Gallaudet Dance Company, Rochester Institute of Technology Dance Company, DuPont Alley Dance Company, National Theatre of Deaf, PennVision Dance Company, Center Stage at Baltimore; J .F. Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, Deaf West and many others.

Irvine Stewart explains the Wild Zappers' name. "We wanted to combine funk, jazz, and street style movements in one dance element, we didn't see that anywhere else in the deaf community…this was way back in 1988, 1989. We also loved to perform snaps on each other. We were always snapping each other with wild, crazy statements, rebuttals, 'laugh-out' on-the-low comments…stuff that you see on Def Comedy Jam, but we were doing that already in the late '80s. Thus, Wild Zappers was born."

When the dancers perform for children one of the many questions they receive is how they are able to stay with the music. Beam explains, "We feel the music through the vibrations, and to stay on track we depend on the very first beat. Some of the dancers have hearing aids to help pick up sounds. Basically, we just feel the vibration. It's like going to a nightclub and the bass hitting the floor and though your body, you can't understand the words of the music but you can feel the music." He also explained how they have to study and memorize the lyrics then concentrate on the music.

Dancing is just one of the many things these performers do to educate people about deaf culture. They hold workshops to teach youth about deaf culture.

"Sometimes we go to deaf schools so that they (students) can empower themselves. We also do educational theater plays, which is under Class Acts Agency. We are also involved in music videos to show the deaf can be part of the entertainment world. We try to tell people that we can do everything they can do, but the only thing we cannot do is hear well. We are focusing on our abilities, not our disabilities," said Beam.

It is the mission of the Wild Zappers to enrich professional arts for deaf males in the world through the focus, the beauty of dance, theatre and sign language, while providing an uplifting experience for the deaf and hearing.

"We enjoy each other's company and we love the travel. We have met so many different peoples on the road. Each of us is doing different things in the world, making our marks as we go along. But the Wild Zappers will be remembered for being the life of the party, the stylists that kill, the men that gave in community services, the guys with their own brand of funkiness and happiness," said Stewart.

For more information on the Wild Zappers go to

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