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December 5, 2004

A deaf dancer feels the rhythm

From: Miami Herald, FL - Dec 5, 2004


Voices sound distant and faint, accents completely throw her off, and she has to use an interpreter to understand her teammates. But being partially deaf doesn't keep Chanel Cole of Perrine from ''hearing'' the dance rhythms.

Chanel, a 16-year-old junior at Southwest Senior High School, is a member of the school's MAC step team, a dance group with routines based on stomps and claps.

Though declared hard of hearing at age 3 because of a high fever, Chanel is undeterred and uses the vibrations off the dance moves to keep up.

''I love dancing. It's like I don't have to think about it,'' Chanel said with the help of Ivanska Jordan, a sign language interpreter provided by the school, who shadows Chanel and other deaf students in class and at extracurricular activities.

'It makes me feel great, like 'Yeah, I may be deaf, but I can still participate.' ''

Chanel discovered her love of dancing as an 8-year-old at New Testament Church of God in Perrine, where Dwight Thompson leads a dance troupe called Miami Young Adults Christian Theater.

''I just started moving my body and he thought I was really good,'' Chanel said of her first informal audition with Thompson.

The church team won first place in April at a state competition in Tampa. In July, they moved on to compete at the international level in Texas, where they beat out 65 other church dance teams, winning first there, as well.

''She's amazing, she's one of my better dancers,'' Thompson said. ''Because of her hearing impairment, she excels where we normally wouldn't. She remembers choreography done years ago and she feels the beat so she's always right on cue.''

Though she's been with the church troupe for about eight years, Chanel said step dancing has always intrigued her.

Last year she tried out for the high school's step team and made the cut. For the audition she performed her own free-style dance as well as a series of moves shown to her minutes before.

Now she joins the 15 other members of the team -- proudly donning the team's uniform of gray Dickie shorts, white tank top and sneakers. ''I'm very proud of her because she has never backed down from a challenge,'' said Mavis Cole, Chanel's mother. ''Being the mother of a hearing-impaired child can be difficult, but she's a great encouragement.''

Chanel said she relates well to her teammates, sometimes teaching them basic signs and reading their lips to communicate. The interpreter that usually accompanies her makes practices easier, she said.

''At times it's difficult to teach her steps because I don't know sign language,'' Shantalle Guzman, the team captain, said, ''but she's very determined. She works hard until she gets it.''

Chanel said that whenever a move is too tough, she goes home and practices until she gets it right. That work ethic pays off, inspiring most of her teammates, including two others who are deaf.

The other two deaf girls are no longer part of the team because they couldn't stay after school for the practices, said Lena Williams, a math teacher at the school and the group's coach for the past six years. ''She's really good and learns fast,'' said 14-year-old Elizabet Abraham, who joined the MAC steppers this year. ''She motivates me to get the beats down perfect.''

© 2004 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.