Deaf Dancer Chris Fonseca Teaches Students How To #KeepItMoving
I walked into Kore New York in Manhattan’s meatpacking-district on a humid Tuesday in early-May, excited to take a very special dance class. The class was physical, emotional and ended up being more inspiring than I could have ever imagined. I’ve taken a few dance classes in my day, but this is for sure one of the most memorable.
After a case of meningitis as a child left him completely deaf, London-based dancer and choreographer Chris Fonseca has defied the odds by continuing to dance and teach despite his impairment. Now, he’s fulfilling one of his dreams of teaching hip-hop dance in both the U.S. and Europe as part of Smirnoff Ice’s “Keep It Moving” campaign, which corresponds with the rollout of their new line of malt beverages, “Electric Flavors.”
“Smirnoff’s hashtag [#KeepItMoving] I think adds to the fact that dance is a universal language,” said Fonseca in regards to the importance of dancing highlighted through the campaign. He spoke to me via an interpreter, who relayed the message to another interpreter since sign language across the pond is slightly different from sign language here in the States.
The attraction that Fonseca has to hip-hop is magnetic. Since he’s unable to hear the music, Fonseca uses vibrations from the heavy bass to count the music while he teaches so that he can stay on beat. “I love hip-hop music because the bass is so strong on it, and I just love that,” he explained. “The structure of the rhythm is something that I really connect to easily. All it takes is one beat, and I’m there!”
Among the photographers and videographers who were crowded into the small-yet-intimate exercise room were some of my fellow classmates for the evening. I stretched beside CJ Salvador, a dancer for Justin Bieber, and chatted with Jeremy Strong, a choreographer for Jason DeRulo. There was also a budding photographer in the mix, Bekka Gunther, who was both excited and anxious to take the class. “I’m comfortable dancing and moving my hips and dancing in my own way, but I’m not comfortable with choreography,” she said bashfully. “This will be a really fun class.”
Today was beyond amazing. Im super inspired by the homie @cfofficial ... Got to link with him and Smirnoff to learn some of his dance moves. No matter if you're hearing impaired, deaf or you have all of your hearing anyone can #keepitmoving. @smirnoffsoundcollective ...Go look at my snapchat : TheJeremyStrong to see some of the action. #sponsored #TheGreatAwakening #jeremystrong #domoreforthepeople #spreadlove cc: @_cjsalvador
There were a handful of students in the class who are hearing-impaired, however, much like Fonseca, they’re not letting their disability throw off their groove. A student named Mara Ladines was a cheerleader in high school and on a dance team in college- the only member on these teams who could not hear. Although she fell out of a regular dance routine, she said watching someone like Chris chase his dreams is inspiring to watch.
“I know it’s not an easy thing to do,” she noted. “There’s a lot of hearing people who think that deaf people aren’t able [to dance], and he has that persistence and I admire that. I encourage him to keep going and don’t let the world take him down! Defy odds! Break those barriers!”
I watched as Fonseca prepared for the class by freestyle dancing to the beat he’ll use for the combination. Despite his modern day hip-hop attire of jogger pants and a gray snapback, he’s got a very old school flair to his dancing, likely due to his love for the film Breakin’, a movie he watched as a child that cemented his love for the style.
After a quick warm-up, Fonseca taught the class how to count the beat through vibrations, so that they could stay in time with the beat. The music was blasting so that the bass was heavy enough for every student- especially those with a hearing impairment- to feel (he playfully noted that for a deaf person, trying to catch the beat solely through vibrations is like “trying to connect to wifi”). The class consisted of over 25 people, and we learned a full dance that gave off an old school essence (complete with the *real* Running Man).
Later on, we were treated to refreshments and complimentary bottles of Smirnoff Ice’s new Electric Berry and Electric Mandarin drinks. The new Electric Flavors are non-carbonated and come in a plastic bottle rather than a glass one, so partygoers are able to hit the dance floor without worrying about what could happen to their drink. The “Keep It Moving” campaign was created with individuals in mind who want to swig and shake it at the same time.
“Smirnoff ICE Electric Flavors were born out of the insight that adults previously had to choose between the dance floor and their drink,” says Heather Boyd, Brand Director of Flavored Malt Beverages, Diageo-Guinness USA. “This product allows people to do both simultaneously.”
The campaign also features Baddie Winkle, an 87-year-old taking the Internet by storm with her vibrant personality and infectious moves. She and Fonseca have something in common- they both love to dance despite society’s belief that her age and his disability would deter them from doing so.
“People focus on deaf people having an impairment on their ability to hear, and they let that define their ability,” said Fonseca. “But really, if you just saw their skills, that would show what they can do. I would like to see more deaf people be involved in all the performing arts- music, theater, dance- because it’s an art, and deaf people like art as well.”
Dance has proven to Fonseca that, mentally, he is stronger than he knows. He is also aware of the power of dancing, and how the art form takes more than just what someone is able to do physically. “The beauty is that it [dance] doesn’t have anything to do with the ability to speak, the ability to hear, what you know,” he acknowledges. “Instead it’s about that expression that comes from your heart.” When I ask him what has been his mantra throughout this entire experience, he points to the fogged-up mirror and smiles at the quote plastered upon it.
“How do you know if you don’t try?” the mirror-cling read.
“That’s my motto, it’s that simple, and what I learned about this process is that dreams don’t work unless you do it, so, dream it, believe it and achieve it.”