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Destler Dodge

“If I could dance to, on or at anyone instead of talking to them, I would,” said Dan C. Fiend, soon to be the first-ever Interpretive Dance student at RIT, before refusing to answer any of my following questions without exaggerated body movements.

Fiend is very excited to start the year in one of RIT’s newest and most innovative majors not yet offered anywhere else in the country. Newly instated under the American Sign Language (ASL) and Interpreting Education Department in NTID, this bachelor's program will allow students and faculty to work together in order to develop a new form of communication to bridge the gap between those who hear and those who are hard-of-hearing or deaf.

“We did it before when we developed C-print as a speech-to-text technology. Now we are developing something that is speech-to-full-body-movement,” explained Dr. Mo V. Meant, the professor who has taken the initial steps of developing the new program in recent months.

“I always felt that words, sounds and letters were such an outdated way of conversing,” danced Fiend.

Meant and other faculty within the new program seem to agree with this perspective.

“I’ve heard that over 70 percent of communication is through body language. Now we are trying to make that 100 percent,” he expanded.

Testing

Through initial classroom tests with Fiend’s moves and a combination of hearing, hard-of-hearing and deaf students, Meant has been able to gain some rough data about how this form of communication will work when starts being used in the mainstream.

Feedback has been collected from students and professors alike. “I like watching the dance much more than listening to the professor,” said hearing student Lacy But, third year University Studies student. “It’s more entertaining. I’m not always sure what is being said through the dance, but either way, Dan’s moves can be pretty impressive.”

This perspective, shared by many students, has raised some concern from professors who not only want more students paying attention to the PowerPoints they’ve spent weeks developing and decorating with clip art, but who have also raised concerns that students may not be absorbing the main points discussed in class.

“I would love to watch a dance show, too,” said Professor Bo C. Pants. “But I have a lesson to teach, and students have a lesson to learn, and I don’t want to worry about being grand battement-ed in the shin again while trying to accomplish that.”

Nonetheless, the majority of students who have had their classes interpreted through dance have responded positively to the experience. The opinions of the minority were considered biased due to these students' close calls or full collisions with Fiend’s flailing limbs.

Greatness Through Difference

RIT administrator Ian Charge explained that the development of this major adheres to the Institute’s mission: to achieve greatness though difference.

“I guess my major goes with RIT’s mission,” agreed Fiend. “I mean, every time I tell people I’m going to school for interpretive dance they say, ‘That’s different.’ And there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a great thing.”

Many students agree with this, including both the students who look forward to watching the classes and those with the passion to dance.

“My department has always said that interpreting is a fascinating, challenging and rapidly-expanding field that offers an endless variety of opportunities and rich linguistic and cultural experiences," Meant said. "The addition of Interpretive Dance to our program is just another way that interpreting, at least at RIT, is expanding and incorporating more forms of culture.”