By Grace Edwards.
Anna Seymour is a Melbourne-based deaf dance artist who recent graduated from Deakin University. Anna was instrumental in setting up informal hip-hop dance classes for the deaf community with Medina Sumovic in 2006, which then led to establishment of the Deaf Can Dance Project, run by the Deaf Arts Network and Arts Access Victoria.
Anna has also worked on projects with the Polyglot Theatre, at the Sacred Kingfisher Festival, and was a theatre interpreter for the show Speaking at La Mama, which was part of the 2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival. In 2012, she partnered with fellow deaf dance artist Jo Dunbar to co-found The Delta Project, a dance company employing both hearing and deaf dancers.
Dance Informa recently spoke with Anna to discuss what life is like as a deaf artist with a passion for dance.
How did you get involved in dance?
I started dancing when I was six years old. I did heaps of jazz and tap but not enough ballet! I was in the dance group at school, which was fun, but I stopped when I was a teenager. I took it up again when I was in my early twenties, mainly for fun, but it didn’t take me very long to fall in love with dance all over again. That was when I knew it was what I wanted to do.
How did you cope with the additional challenges in learning to dance? Did you have resources or mentors who guided you?
As a little girl, I was lucky to have teachers from an early age who never thought my deafness would stop me from being a dancer. They encouraged me to take part in classes even though no one could sign, and they actually encouraged me to become a professional dancer.
My mother would interpret a little bit, but not always, because dance is so physical and visible and I could follow the teacher. She would write and draw the dance choreography, and we would go over it at home where she would explain the music and rhythms.
While I have also had many great and inspiring teachers at university and within the broader dance community, I’ve never really had a formal dance mentor. I hope to find one soon; that would be really helpful. I find it really beneficial to surround myself with dancers and artists who I can talk with, people who understand what it’s like and who want to help me understand my identity as a dancer.
How did you transition from thinking about dance as a hobby to thinking about it as a career?
I have always loved dance. In primary school, I would ask the principal if I could use the school hall at recess and lunch times, and that was when I danced my heart out. I would gather my deaf friends and choreograph dances on them. It was lots of fun!
But it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I realised that I could actually make dance my career. I had just moved to Melbourne and I was dancing a little bit and then I just kept being offered performing jobs, for example, at La Mama, as well as solo performances for various festivals. That’s when I decided to study dance at university. It seemed the right thing to do. It wasn’t a difficult decision, as I knew I wanted to commit to a career in dance. I’ve never looked back.
Have you ever had a moment where you’ve thought ‘Now, I’m a dancer’?
I just graduated from Deakin last year, so I feel that my work is just beginning and I’m still building a career in dance, very slowly! Sometimes it feels frustrating and I wonder why I’m doing this, but I just keep going. I am enjoying the process of learning and expanding my horizons rather than focussing on the moment I’ll become a “professional dancer,” whatever that means.
In what ways do you believe that being deaf has been beneficial?
I am always being asked, “How can you dance if you are deaf?” While it has its obvious challenges, I see them as opportunities for challenging and exploring ideas about what dance is and who can be a dancer.
Being Deaf has definitely shaped my life, my career and my dance practice, but it is not my entire practice, it’s just part of who I am and therefore a part of that too. Deafness can indeed be an advantage in dance — I have strong peripheral vision, a heightened sense of feeling and anticipation of movement and a good sense of rhythm. Rather than relying on the music, I learn dance phrases relying on muscle memory. However, I do like having music on, as I have hearing aids which helps me hear the music and I can feel the vibrations sometimes.
What are your biggest frustrations in dance?
Not being able to dance full-time and get paid for it! And it’s always a struggle to find the funds to pay for sign language interpreters whenever I want to do dance workshops, attend master classes or intensives, and things like that.
What advice would you give younger versions of yourself, knowing what you know now?
Feel the fear and do it anyway! Don’t compare yourself to others — you are on your own unique path, so don’t measure your success by the success of others. And throw yourself into more performing opportunities.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future?
The Delta Project, a dance company I co-founded with Jo Dunbar, is training together and applying for funding to create a new work. We also hope to present the Project’s first work, Collisions, again. Collisions is a choreographic collaboration between a hearing artist, Jodie Farrugia, and deaf artist, Jo Dunbar, which employs four hearing and four deaf dancers. I was very proud of Collisions— it was a unique project exploring the relationships between the deaf and hearing worlds.
I’m also currently involved in a project called Ripple Effect, funded by Vic Health, in which Jo Dunbar, Medina Sumovic [deaf actress and director of the Australian Theatre of the Deaf] and I teach dance and theatre workshops for deaf children. We also deliver workshops for dance teachers and drama teachers who may have deaf students in their classes.
And lastly, I’ve just received a grant from the Australian Council of the Arts for my professional development in dance. This is perfect as I am now able to participate in more dance workshops and master classes, and establish myself better as a dancer, as I’m better able to pay for sign language interpreters.
Next edition Dance Informa will speak with Jo Dunbar, fellow deaf dancer and co-founder of The Delta Project. Look out for this interesting interview.
Photo (top): Anna Seymour in rehearsal for The Delta Project’s Collisions. Photo by Pippa Dodds.