Recently, I wrapped up my follow up of a two-part stage combat workshop at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. I had been very excited to teach, because since coming home from my training in China, this was my first time teaching a stage combat class, and thus, my first time teaching a stage combat class in well over a year. Like I said, I was excited, but I was also a bit nervous. I wasn’t just nervous because I hadn’t taught in a while, teaching is something I feel comes naturally to me, however, I have never worked with the deaf before.
I was wondering if there was anything I should avoid teaching that would be sound oriented such as “knaps”. Yet it turned out avoiding such wasn’t necessary, I discussed this with the professor ahead of time, who clarified they would still want to know anything any performer would utilize. “Of course they would!” I thought as I mentally slapped myself on the forehead, still, I would rather be sure and ask the question beforehand then guess during class. However I did find out much to my interest, that there is no sign for the word “knap”. I suppose this doesn’t surprise me too much considering that word is constantly the victim of autocorrect. (“Knap” is a sound generated by on actor, often by clapping their hands or similar method to simulate the sound of violent impact for the audience).
The professor asked me in for two classes, a stage falls class, and follow up for stage slaps and punches. The professor was there to work as an interpreter, as I have yet to learn ASL, and help make sure her class stayed focused. It turned out to be a rather large class, in a pretty small dance studio. She did have mats available and after a warm up, we laid them down utilizing the small space as efficiently as possible. There were about 5 different groups of students who would take turns practicing each technique on a mat.
Before we split into groups I discussed stage combat a little bit stating “Stage combat is NOT safe, it is our job however, to make it AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE,” I said in all caps. I then demonstrated some falls, from the basic to advanced moves (such as I learned in China). I added “We could just throw ourselves around, and it might look pretty cool, but believe it or not, there are specific ways we can fall to protect ourselves, in order to do it again and again.”
In honesty I am 100% sure I was slightly more longwinded than such, as I tend to be that way, but I’m going to pretend I summed it up fairly well. I must have done so, because we got through practicing front falls, back falls, and falling to the side, all in a one hour class.
I found out immediately that working with the deaf was just as pleasant as any other class. I also feel these students were particularly good students, and I am tempted to say that they seemed much more visually attentive and focused than plenty of hearing students I’ve worked with. External noise can be distracting to one as they try to pick up a new skill. As I worked with them, when I wanted to correct someone or if they asked for help all I had to do was walk in front, and point to each part of my body as I moved they way I wanted them to. I would look behind me and find them matching what I did quite well. They were able to pick up what I was doing simply by watching in those moments, and I was impressed. I left day 1 happy with the progress I’ve seen within just an hour, especially considering we were limited by having a small space. For those of you who do not reside in Rochester, outdoors is currently not an option of training ground, as we have 5,000 feet of snow.
I returned a week later to do teach the follow up slaps and punches workshop. I started again with a brief lecture “Remember what we’re doing is not safe, but we practice being as safe as possible, and it’s important for us to be careful. Today we were going to practice partnering, communication, and stage punches and slaps. This is not martial arts or self defense, it won’t save you in the street, but it could save you (or your partner) on stage!”
I went on to discuss partnering, breaking movement/communication down into individual steps, and the principles of leading and following, I won’t get into that here as many know an entire post could discuss such a topic. This is when I found out that there is no ASL for “knap” instead we just called it “the noise” and I indicated by slapping my hands together. When I taught a move, we practiced not by my shouting the steps one command at a time, but with each step indicated by a light switch. Lights on/off for eye contact, then again for a cue, and so forth.
Throughout the lesson, there were more and more smiles and laughter, and as class dismissed, several of the students thanked me in person for coming in. I heard one even asked the professor “will he come back?” I’d love to, as I was fortunate to have students who were so engaged in the material. Cheers to you NTID, and gratitude to a professor who took the time to bring me in to teach.