Creatives In Conversation: How professional dancer and educator Antoine Hunter is empowering and uplifting Deaf communities around the world.
From its rich global history to its abundance of varied stylistic interpretations, dance is a timeless art-form and method of self-expression that has been celebrated for helping define culture for centuries. In today's contemporary world, as Antoine Hunter passionately exemplifies, dance remains much deeper than simply moving one's body to a beat. For over 15 years, Antoine has been wholeheartedly dedicating his time to bringing Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing communities together through dance.
A proud Oakland native, Antoine's own personal relationship with dance evolved exponentially when he realized how transcendental, inclusive and powerful the medium truly is. While dance has helped Antoine find his identity and place in the world, he has genuinely come into his own through helping and inspiring others to find what moves them, particularly those in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community. He happily wears many hats, with dance serving as the driving force behind all that he does. As an award-winning Deaf dancer, choreographer, instructor, speaker, model, actor, writer, mentor, advocate and entrepreneur, Antoine utilizes the art of dance to prove you don't need to hear music in order to move, connect and feel it.
In addition to his work as the founder and director of Urban Jazz Dance Company, he also produces the annual Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival. Most recently, Antoine has joined DropLabs as an Advisory Board member, helping further inform and guide a movement rooted in reimagining how the world experiences sound. Dance has long served as fuel for innovation and a platform for self-expression, making such a partnership as important and integral as it is organic.
While Antoine’s passions continue to take him around the world and introduce him to people from all walks of life, he took a moment to talk more about his journey as a visionary leader, how he got started as a dancer and his life’s mission to inspire and uplift others in the Deaf dance community.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about when you first discovered your passion for dancing?
The first time that I realized dance was the way to communicate with people, I was in high school. And I took dance class. One day my teacher said, "Hey, you all have to work together with a project and create a dance." Nobody wanted to dance with me. No one wanted to work with me. I told my teacher and she said, "Well, why don't you go ahead and create a solo?"
So, I got the music: Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You." I got on stage and the music was playing. She was singing. I was just rocking side to side, feeling cold and alone. I was moving all over the room. When the instrumental break hit, it felt like lightning was hitting my body. The fire, the water, the wind. Every element that's alive was shooting through my body. I didn't know what I was doing but I remember when the music stopped. I was catching my breath. All the students watching me, they didn't say anything but then everyone started applauding. My teacher asked everyone what I felt. They said it felt like he was cold and alone. I was like, "That's right!" I knew from then on, dance was the way to communicate.
From there on, I fell in love. I wanted to do Russian dance, Indian dance, hip-hop, everything. I wasn't thinking about my career; I was just thinking it was a way to express myself. Like each dance was like a different language I wanted to learn.
In what ways has your passion for dance became woven deeply into your career?
I teach dancing. I don't want to say just dance, because I'm really an art healer. I feel whole because I have communication and connection. When I dance, I connect with people. It helps them understand me. Art has the power to bring people together. It has the power to help us understand each other. I want people to know that it's safe for them to be who they are. It's a big honor and it's a responsibility too, for me. I want everyone to have access to enjoyment. My responsibility is to welcome people to the family and I look forward to bringing more Deaf communities together.
I have the Urban Jazz Dance Company and then I started up the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival. Hearing and Deaf can dance together, but we're giving the opportunity for Deaf people to lead. It's really amazing.
How did you become connected with DropLabs?
I'm on the Advisory Board for DropLabs. It's kind of like we found each other. You know? Like the universe brought us together. [After visiting my dance studio], they brought the prototype of the shoes. We had a conversation about how we can improve the technology, and so far, they've been making some magic happen.
How do you explain the DropLabs experience to others?
I would tell people that my first experience was like an awakening. The hole that was in me was being filled. Healing... I think every individual will have their own memories that will help them connect with their spirit.
This can help my career. I'm a teacher. Before I had to stay in one place to try to connect to the music and now I can help students while moving all over the room. That's my passion, to teach and help people. [DropLabs Technology™] gives me unlimited space to move and helps me in my profession. With DropLabs, now I can go anywhere. I can go on the train to feel the music, I can go to the gym to feel the music. I hope so many people get to know DropLabs.
I want everyone to experience what I've been experiencing. I really appreciate that the organization understands that dancing doesn't start with your ears, it starts with your heart. It flows through the body. I really, really appreciate that. Thank you, DropLabs, for being part of the miracle and for letting me be a part of the miracle.
What is something that keeps you going, in your work as a dance teacher, art healer and overall creative?
One thing that keeps me going is to shut out people who've told me I couldn't do it. Every day, there's a lot of people telling me what I should be doing. Deaf? Dance? Who does that? Deaf people do! We do that. Humanity does that. Every culture in this world has their own dance. We just need to take the time to create a space and watch and learn from each other, because we all have some cool moves that we could be learning from each other.
What are some words of wisdom would you like to share with the world?
You have good days and bad days, but you're still beautiful. Give yourself some time because someone is looking for you, just like you're looking for them. There's always someone watching you. When I was growing up, I thought no one was watching me. I was working so hard to dance, especially as a Deaf person. When I made it to the top, someone said, "I've been watching you for so many years. You inspire me." I was like, What! I'm really grateful. You never know who is watching. Do your best. Be yourself. Just be you.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology™ is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community. Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path. To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact email@example.com.