DropLabs Partners Up With Deaf Dancers To Help the Deaf Community
Here at BELLO, we had the immense pleasure of getting to know Shaheem Sanchez and Antoine Hunter who do not let their selves being deaf stop them from pursuing their dreams. Using their platforms to help the deaf community, these two talented individuals have partnered up with DropLabs, the first sonic sensory haptic footwear technology that lets you FEEL sound throughout your entire body, to bring about change and progress. Both of these dancers have incredible stories to tell so sit back, kick off your shows, grab a drink, and get ready to dive into a whole new world!
By Alexandra Bonnet @alexbonnetwrites
Special Thanks to @droplabs, Shaheem Sanchez @shaheem, and Antoine Hunter @thegreatdancerah
Photo of Antoine by Gregg Segal
Actor, Choreographer, Social Media Influencer…
Growing up, what role did dance play in your upbringing? How did it shape who you are today?
My dad is my inspiration. He was a dancer as well. I have never met him. He passed away before I was born, so I never got a chance to meet him. My family told me about him, I saw a video of him dancing and I was so shocked that he could dance do well. I decided I wanted to be like him. But I never thought I would dance because I’m deaf. But I wanted to try and not give up, because it doesn’t matter: deaf or not. Anything you want to do, you can do it, so I pushed myself. I grew up around the dance community, enrolled in dance competitions. It was a lot of struggle and frustration because I couldn’t understand what was going on.
When you became deaf at the age of four, do you remember what your first thoughts was? How did you cope with the sudden change?
I became deaf when I was 4. But I don’t remember hearing; I feel like I was born this way. Growing up deaf, I thought it was normal. It took me some time to discover who I am and to realize that nothing can stop me even if I can’t hear.
What are some positive aspects that came with being deaf? How do you see the world since that age?
To never give up and always chase your dream. Nothing can stop me from what I love. People will judge but don’t let that stop you from becoming who you are, because that doesn’t stop me. I still push myself.
Share with us one of your favorite dance performances to date. What was it for? What about it makes it unique and stand out from others?
The LG “Life is Good” commercial: it was very emotional for me. Big company. that was very spiritual for me— they treated me like a king, they took care of me.
Zappos also had me perform. That was such a fun trip. People were coming up to me and taking pictures with me. I love making people happy and putting smiles on people’s faces.
Share with us your very first experience wearing DropLabs sneakers. What were you feeling in that very moment?
It made me feel so good. I’d never seen anything like it before— it’s different on another level. I like the shoes: they make me want to dance more, play games, place basketball. I shared with my deaf friends who didn’t know about the shoes, and when I was listening to music with the shoes and they felt it on their wood floors.
Can you describe to us what music feels like when you dance with the DropLabs Sneakers?
I feel like vibration controls my body and my feet and I can move around as one. I can feel music everywhere. It feels like no one is bothering me and I can focus. I can be in my mind, wander around, relax. I can feel myself.
Why do you think merging technology and fashion is so important? How will it have a strong impact on others, do you think?
They do really well together: it’s a chance to look good while finding a new way to experience the world.
Explain to us your movement of combining ASL (American Sign Language) with dance. What are some obstacles you have faced and how did you overcome them?
It’s great to have deaf and hearing people come together and to have hearing people understand our struggle and our frustration. It’s better to understand each other and to become one. I would love to have everyone in the world know sign language. It would be amazing if ASL was required, and that it wouldn’t matter if you were deaf or hearing, to just have everyone speaking the same language.
Describe what dance means to you in one sentence.
I love dancing. I can never stop! I dance anywhere no matter what. To me, that’s enjoying life. It’s all I think about. It’s my dad and me.
Tell us more about Sound of Metal. What do you hope your audience will get out of it?
I hope people will be inspired and learn and get the idea of what the deaf community went through. it’s about involving deaf people. It’s about a man who was has hearing, and he is a drummer, and he lost his hearing. He became so frustrated at being deaf, but he realized he had to find a way back to drumming, because struggle is normal for everyone, hearing and deaf people alike.
I want people to understand our struggle, so when they see the movie, they will be inspired and keep the deaf community in mind. People saw it at TIFF and they came up to me afterwards and told me that they got goosebumps.
The movie came out in theatres in November, and is available on Amazon Prime as of last month.
An award-winning African, Indigenous, Deaf, Disable, Two Spirit producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor and Deaf advocate…
What pushed you towards this career?
As a producer, dancer and as an artist and a person who loves to learn from people, I always try to put myself in different communities. I want to support and understand what people are going through in America. This has allowed me to connect with all kinds of people throughout my career, which is the most rewarding. I’m currently working on a project about deaf refugees. When I connect with people in this community who are ready to share their story, I’m always amazed on how people were able to adapt and survive when they first arrived, because they had to accept so much change.
What is it like to be a deaf dancer?
A lot of people ask “how do you dance when you’re deaf?” Well, I get to listen to music in a different way! It’s almost like being deaf is a super power. Dancing to me is like breathing. I can compare myself to a fish: they have to keep moving to breathe— even in their sleep, they’re constantly moving. Dancing doesn’t always start with your ear, it starts with your heart. You can add music and that’s just extra! I believe that’s my advantage. I’m proud of being Deaf!
Can you describe what music feels like with DropLabs?
When I wear DropLabs, the music has so much clarity— I can feel it. The shoes became a part of my foot. I walk around and can feel the music that’s valuable to me. I can sit on the plane with DropLabs shoes and listen to music without disturbing anyone. Sometimes, to be honest, I wanna wear it all the time, even in my bed! I’m watching a movie. I don’t want to feel disconnected from entertainment, and this gives me more access. I really love it. I’m just sad that I can’t wear it in the bathtub. Zula! Which means brilliant!
Photo by Gregg Segal
What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in your life?
I don’t think I overcame being Deaf cuzz I’m proud of it —but facing discrimination as a young person, as a Black person, as a Deaf person. It get hard where I give up on humanity but I’ve realized that you can’t give up on anyone. You just have to be patient with people, especially when you’ve had more exposure to things or experienced more with your life. People may not see things the way you see it.
I’m not saying be patient and let them walk over you. I’m saying you may have to say that some things will bear repeating before you can bring people to your point of view.
Why is it important to have more inclusivity in technology and fashion?
Great question. In lockdown, people are trying to figure out how to interact with each other. People with disabilities have been doing that forever. We’ve been isolated trying to find a way to be a a part of society. I think now, people are stopping and slowing down and asking the disability community to teach them how to solve these problems? It’s really a beautiful thing. It’s involved with art, it’s involved with technology.
Do you have any special or favorite choreographies from your career?
I love all my choreographers. I love “Risk!”— it’s about dancing with no help at all. In my personal experience. The audience gets to roll the die and pick tracks to the music. And while I might dance off beat, the audience still gets to experience what I’m feeling.
I also love Deaf Imprisoned. It’s about Deaf people who feel like they’re in prison, and Deaf people who are in prison. I interviewed them— some of them said they said they can’t use the phone to talk to their family.
Some people are in there because they didn’t know how to pay their taxes, because they were in the wrong place, because they didn’t have an interpreter.
I recorded the production of Deaf Imprisoned and showed it to the inmates, and it was overwhelming to share it with them. You can see how it moved them to have their story shared with hundreds of people. 2 hours dance show with film, music, text, spoken words, and so much more! We’re hoping this story can have an impact on society to improve.
Can you explain DeafHope?
DeafHope is an organization that helps people who experience domestic violence. I see myself as a helped that connects with people. When I was a kid, I was mocked and teased. It was so bad at one point I came close to taking myself out from the world. Dance saved my life— people can understand me through dance, its a way to community.
Domestic Violence is not easy subject to talk about. I did a project called “Muffled Ovarian”. People walked up to me and my dancers and said the show gave them courage to share their truth and talk about some of the painful things they’d experienced and begin on a path towards healing.
What is your favorite thing about teaching dance to others?
Getting people to dance! Now that I’ve worked on film and on virtual platforms, I tell people that they don’t need to be so focused on following the rules: now tell they can go right if I go left, as long as they’re dancing! And I learn from people in my class as much as they learn from me— I almost view that connection as a spiritual thing.