Deaf Men Dancing founder: Mark Smith

This week, Signature share with you more about Deaf Men Dancing, an all-male D\deaf dancing group that aims to combine the wonders of dance with the visual richness that is embedded within British Sign Language. The blog illuminates the thoughts of Mark Smith, the creator of Deaf Men Dancing.

Carry on reading to find out about this unique group:

  1. Hi Mark, first, could you please introduce yourself to our weekly readers?

My name is Mark Smith. I am a Choreographer. I am an Artistic Director and Creator of Deaf Men Dancing and DMD+. I am based in London, and I was born Deaf.

  1. What sparked your interest in setting up Deaf Men Dancing?

I was always asked if I was the only deaf dancer to which I knew there were many others. Consequently, this gave me the idea to create a dance company of All-Male D\deaf dancers to show and inspire people and change their perspective. My inspiration behind Deaf Men Dancing was Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Ballet Boyz, and Lea Anderson’s The Featherstonehaughs, which was an all-male dance company.

  1. When did you get into dancing and were you inspired by anyone in particular?

When I was 3 years old, my mother used to take me along to my sister’s ballet classes. This was about the time I got my first hearing aids. I used to copy the dance movements at the back of the class in which the teachers asked my mother if I would like to join. That is where my love for dance began. My inspiration growing up at an early age was watching silent movies like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy as this movie was through movement and the wording I could read. This was the first movie I would watch before subtitles were available. I used to love watching MGM musicals, Top of the Pops and Hot Gossip expanded my love for dance and music. I am inspired by many choreographers and musicians like Michael Clark, Mats Ek, Bob Fosse, Martha Graham, David Bowie, and Prince, which also gave me a lot of inspiration for my choreography.

  1. Have you faced any misconceptions or stereotypes about deaf dancers, and how do you challenge or address these perceptions through your work?

I had to adapt as there was no accessibility for me as a young dancer, so I had to work twice as hard but this made me stronger as I was always willing to learn more, and I wanted to prove that I can do what any hearing dancers can do. The only setbacks I would have would be at audition stages. I would always go really far but once they found out I was deaf, they would be concerned about working with me as they would worry about how to communicate with me (would they need to use sign language or hire an interpreter). There was not much knowledge about accessibility for deaf dancers back then so this would be a massive impact for me getting work as a dancer.

  1. It was amazing to see Rose Ayling-Ellis win Strictly Come Dancing! Do you think that this changed the way individuals approach deaf dancers?

Strictly Come Dancing has millions of viewers, and a wide range of all ages. Rose Ayling-Ellis winning the show gave the viewers an insight to the deaf community and that deaf people can dance and I believe that people learnt a lot from her. Even little things for example, when I would buy a coffee, the server would sign ‘thank you’ to me and this was the time Rose was on Strictly Come Dancing and this had never happened to me before. This was so nice for me because it gave me a sense of acceptance and understanding. So, Rose made a massive impact and became a huge inspiration for the Deaf community.

  1. In what ways do you advocate for inclusivity and accessibility within the dance community, and what changes would you like to see in the industry to better support deaf dancers?

I believe that accessibility has become a lot better for D/deaf dancers. They can receive funding for their access needs. Also performing art colleges and theatres can apply for funding to help support for any access needs that are required. The theatre and dance world has become a lot more open minded to learn and encourage dancers with a disability which is amazing.

  1. What key pieces of advice would you give to deaf individuals who are wanting to pursue their passion of dance?

I would encourage deaf dancers that want to pursue a career in dance to try all different dance schools in their area and try all different dance styles to figure out which they enjoy the most. Always be willing to work hard and push yourself. Speak to other deaf dancers about their experiences and learn about the audition process. Networking and asking lots of questions will give you more insight. Also, find out what support you can receive for your access needs to help you find work and whilst you are working.

  1. Here at Signature, we are incredibly excited for BSL to become a GCSE. What are your thoughts on this new qualification?

I think it is amazing news that children can take BSL as a GCSE. Having BSL as a GCSE subject is giving children the opportunity to communicate with Deaf people and maybe in the future take up interpreting as a career. This is why I love to use BSL in my choreography to keep BSL alive as it is such a beautiful form of expression. When I am teaching masterclasses, I teach dance and sign language and the participants will be learning both. This is brilliant for the future for the deaf community to feel included.

  1. What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

If I could give advice to my younger self, I would say, “Don’t worry too much about what people think as it will get easier, and people will embrace you and your disability and just love you for who you are. You will always have the support from your family and friends. Even though it is a tough industry, your future will be amazing. You will be fortunate to do the job you love and one day you will end up choreographing a West End Show” (Which did happen with “The Little Big Things!”

  1. Finally, do you have any future aspirations or goals, either in your personal career or with Deaf Men Dancing?

My future aspiration is to become a director. I was very fortunate enough to have received the Michael Grandage Futures Bursary, in which I wanted to take a new direction into directing. Michael Grandage believes in me and my vision and has given me the confidence to look into achieving this goal. I am currently working on a deaf dance project called D-Clusivity (in collaboration with Black Country Dance Hub) which I will be working with D\deaf and Hard of Hearing dancers and a mix of different genders. This will be an exciting project which hopefully we would eventually take on tour in the UK next year.

Here at Signature, we would like to thank Mark for sharing more with our weekly readers. It has been great to learn about Mark’s passion for dance and also more about how he successfully pursued this passion. We look forward to seeing more of Mark’s wonderful creations and also wish him luck in his goal to be a director. We are certain he will exceed at this! 

Share this article: