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Deaf and still dancing

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Ammar Ameezy's partial sense of hearing didn't stop him from dancing to the beat.

Unlike other dancers, Muhammad Ammar Nasrulhaq hardly relies on the music. Instead, he uses his eyes as ears to guide his moves.

Ammar, who is partially deaf, is unable to listen to the songs he dances to. However, that has not stopped him from dancing.

The part-time dance instructor, also known as Ammar Ameezy, said: "We can't just listen to the track and match [our moves with] its beat and rhythm. That doesn't mean we can't dance. For us deaf dancers, we memorise the music layers, feel the vibrations on the floor, and understand how the beats go."

In fact, Ammar, who has 10 years of experience in dance, is so good at what he does that he has won several awards and medals for his performances.

In 2013, he emerged among the Top 8 among hundreds of participants in local modern street dance-off, Hip Hop Throwdown. Most recently, Ammar and his crew performed at True Colours Festival, an arts festival that features performing artistes with disabilities.

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Ammar (left) hosts weekly dance classes for Redeafination.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY

When Youth.SG met Ammar at the dance studio three months ago, he appeared confident as he led Redeafination, a local deaf dance crew. 

The class of 12 dancers followed his dance steps diligently, and they only took three five-minute breaks throughout the three-hour long dance session.

When Ammar sat down during one of his short breaks to talk to us, he used sign language effortlessly as he spoke. Signing is one of their primary languages and the main way they communicate, he said.

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Cardio training, which includes running, burpees and stretches, is part of Ammar's weekly dance sessions with Redeafination. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY

Ammar lost part of his hearing when he was just 1, after suffering high fever as an infant.

Despite his limited sense of hearing, Ammar grew up listening to music and has been in love with dance since he was 3.

He beamed as he recalled his childhood memories: "I would wake up to vibrations from music blasted through speakers in the house. My dad would get me to dance to all types of music, especially Bollywood. Instead of hating it, I grew to really love dance."

At 16, Ammar auditioned for the dance crew at Hai Sing Secondary School.  

"I was a little nervous about it. I have always loved dance, but it was the first time I was trying out for a dance crew," added Ammar.

He admitted it wasn't easy being the only deaf member in the dance crew as he needed more time to catch up with the others.

"That doesn't mean we give up. We just have to work twice, or three times more than others – slowly but surely, we'd get there," said Ammar matter-of-factly. 

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With his secondary school dance crew, Ammar (extreme left) won a gold medal at the Singapore Youth Festival in 2009.
PHOTO CREDIT: MUHAMMAD AMMAR

"Even though I am the only dancer in the family, everyone never stopped supporting me, especially my father.

"He told me that my loss of hearing should never be treated as a disability, and that I should never be ashamed of wearing my hearing aids in public because the same goes for those wearing glasses," said Ammar, who looks up to the late iconic pop star Michael Jackson and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan for their dance moves.

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Ammar enjoys taking photos and videos with his father (in frame).
PHOTO CREDIT: MUHAMMAD AMMAR

Why does he enjoy dancing that much?

Ammar, who enjoys dancing hip-hop and freestyle, replied: "Dancing makes me feel free. I feel like I'm living in the moment, free to discover a world beyond dancing - a world of adventures, new experiences and adrenaline rushes."

Ammar came across Redeafination, Singapore's first deaf dance crew, at a dance event in 2011. He was 19 then.

"When I saw them dance, something about the crew spoke to me. Somehow, I just knew that this was the right crew for me," said Ammar, who signed up with them almost immediately.

Ammar promptly took up weekly classes with Redeafination, which helped him improve his dance moves. Being part of the 10-man dance crew also gave him more opportunities.

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Jason and Nix from Redeafination often motivate Ammar to work his hardest and pursue his dreams.
PHOTO CREDIT: REDEAFINATION

"My seniors, Jason and Nix, groomed me to become an instructor and gave me the chance to coach my very own crew.

"I was even given the opportunity to teach a mainstream dance class outside of Redeafination. I made so many deaf friends here and learnt that we could achieve so much more in a team," added the visual effects graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic.

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Ammar (second from left) dancing with Redeafination at fundraising event A Very Special Walk in 2013.
PHOTO CREDIT: REDEAFINATION

While his family have always encouraged and given him their full support, his friends struggled to understand his passion. 

The eldest of two siblings said, with a shrug: "I still remember the appalled looks on my friends' faces. Some felt that deaf people wouldn't be able to hear and appreciate music, or dance to it. Nobody thought that I would take dancing so seriously."

Such comments hardly faze him.

"The people who feel that we [the deaf community] won't ever dance properly motivate me to work harder every single day, and inspire others who are on the same path as me."

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"Just because I'm deaf, it doesn't mean I can't dance. Even if the music goes off, I won't stop dancing because I know the rhythm stays the same."
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY

What else does Ammar hope to achieve through his pursuits as a deaf dancer?

"I want everyone to know that we're no different, and that we're just like you guys. We just can't hear. But we're going to make every day count and try our best to live our lives to the fullest," he said.

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The avid dancer also enjoys uploading videos about the deaf community on his YouTube channel.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY

Ammar added: "I want to continue to challenge perceptions of the deaf in the local dance community. It is not a disability, nor a privilege."

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDITS: WINSTON TAY