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Learning Salsa as a Deaf Man: Michael Ault

Do you remember what it was like to dance Salsa for the first time? Go on and admit it- it was challenging! There seemed to be so much to learn, so many unruly body parts to tame but it was so exciting. You persevered, met the challenges head on and triumphed.

Now imagine for a second that you couldn’t hear your instructor…

Meet Michael Ault. He’s a man who can tell you a thing or two about determination, focus and fun. He’s a man who hasn’t allowed his deafness to come between himself and his love affair with Salsa. Michael has been gracing the Salsa dance-floors of the Midlands and beyond with his infectious enthusiasm for over 5 years now as a dancer and photographer. He is here to share his story with us.

Firstly, can you tell us a little about your deafness? Have you been deaf since birth and ‘how deaf’ are you?

Certainly! I was born 5 weeks prematurely and I have been deaf since birth. Although I’m very deaf, I do have some hearing as I can hear music, especially loud music without hearing aids.  Being deaf to me is like listening to a foreign language being spoken. I can hear the words but the problem for me is recognising things.

Was it challenging to learn to dance as a deaf person?

Of course, it’s an incredible challenge. I have to learn by imitating the moves without the aid of a spoken explanation. Then I need to put the whole chain of moves together. I don’t always ‘get’ the instructors information which makes things harder. It would be lovely if more followers (ladies) would relay what the instructors say to make sure that I understand. An hour’s lesson is just not enough for me- I forget the moves in the 20 minutes after the class and I need more practice with memorising the moves and putting it together. I normally stick to LatinMotion teachers and big name guest teachers as I feel most comfortable with their instruction. Gary Thomas is great for this.

When I was on a Salsa holiday with Eagle Salsa Tours I had a class every morning repeating and adding the moves which worked really well for me.  I work as a postman in the day, so it can sometimes be hard to focus in a class in the evening after a long day’s work!

Are there any advantages that come from being a deaf dancer?

michael aultI suppose that if the music is too loud in the venue then it will affect me less than other dancers. Also if the music is in Spanish or Portuguese instead of English it won’t make any difference to me.

I also face many disadvantages. I don’t have great musicality listening skills as I won’t know or recognise 5,6,7, 1, 2, 3.  I don’t care if I dance on 1 or 2, or even have any knowledge about Salsa music. For me, it is all about the fun. Sadly there are a few ladies who are very serious about dancing, aren’t sympathetic to my problems with musicality and don’t understand the concept of having fun. I try not to let that bother me too much.

What positive benefits has Salsa brought to your life?

Salsa has brought some wonderful change to my life. It has given me a friendly social network to enjoy and lots of friends both male and female as well as being something g to look forward to outside my work as a postman. It has given me many high moments and happy times and very few lows. It also allows me to meet a lot of wonderful people from all over the globe and allows me to visit some of these wonderful places I would have never considered visiting before, like Vilnius, Rovinj, Zagreb, Budapest. I’ve danced in many places such as England, Scotland, Wales, Croatia, Holland, Malta, Spain, Hungary, and Lithuania and I’ll be dancing in Warsaw and Amsterdam next month. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

How do dancers react when they hear that you are deaf? (and how would you like them to react?)

Most dancers admire my confidence and nerve to go out into the hearing world alone and take on dancing Salsa and travelling the world alone. There are few ladies think they can teach me to listen to music properly or cut off the dance due to lack of musicality skills, but they don’t know I got very thick skin and nothing will stop me dancing.

Some people don’t realise I’m deaf and try whispering to me or talking to my ears. This is no good! I need to lip read. People forget that I can still lip read even though it’s loud!  Often I have to push people back a bit so I can talk to them.

What is your favourite thing about dancing Salsa?

I love the fact that everyone is so friendly and that I can dance with anyone from beginner to world-class performers. In fact, I love dancing with world class performers and surprising them with my cheeky dances moves! The last performer I danced with was Tania Cannarsa at Motion City and she left with a big smile across her face! I also love the ability to spend a few minutes enjoying the company of a very beautiful lady and enjoying a dance together, and I love seeing my Salsa friends too!

Tell us about your work as a Salsa photographer. What do you love most about it?

I have been taking photographs of Salsa parties and events for about 4 years now. It’s absolutely wonderful for me, and it also makes many people very happy. Despite having tired legs from my day job, I can still socialise with people and continue to enjoy the whole experience of Salsa. It opens doors to certain things and people. I can also be shy, and my camera has been a great way to overcome this. I continue expand my skills and  to learn more about what makes quality Salsa photographs. Unfortunately, the pay isn’t great so I haven’t been able to invest in better photography hardware yet, nor additional training.  Long term I would love to become a full time international Salsa Congress photographer and travel the world taking photos for living like Valentin Behringer.  and get paid handsomely for it. At the moment I’m using a Nikon Digital SLR camera.

Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us Michael. Best of luck with your photography and keep on enjoying dancing Salsa!

Find Michael Ault’s photos on his Facebook page or on the dancefloors of the world!


4 Comments on Learning Salsa as a Deaf Man: Michael Ault

  1. Glenn Wilkins // November 4, 2014 at 3:38 am // Reply

    What an inspirational interview 🙂
    Like micheal I am deaf too and I have a cochlear implant & I also cannot hear the 1,2,3 4,5,6 :-/ I can only hear the beat
    But I’m lucky to have a great teacher in Misael Cordero in Plymouth who pushes me all the time & encourages me 🙂
    The ladies I dance with wherever I go are equally great & enjoy their dances with me – I hope ! LOL
    I have met great people & made great friends all over the country including Scotland Wales & Ireland from salsa weekenders & holidays
    I absolutely love dancing salsa & wish I started up years ago :-/
    I agree with micheal that it would be great to have musicality but the one key element we have is enjoyment 🙂 got to have fun !

    • Wow! It’s great to find out that other deaf people can still feel the great benefits of salsa in their lives. You’re very lucky to have Misael as your teacher- he’s excellent. I’m so pleased that you love salsa so much. Keep on dancing and having a fabulous time Glenn. You deserve it! x

  2. I am also Deaf and I have been dancing Salsa for almost a year. I love to dance Salsa because it build up my social confidence and I like meeting new people. You are right that it very difficult to hear the sound/voice and I only rely on feeling the beat and counts. Sometime I have to look at other dancer steps to make sure I am on the right beat. Sadly that some serious dancers don’t understand what like to be Deaf and sometime put on negative comment about must be able to follow the music instead of counts and just have fun.

    • Hi Bradley,
      How wonderful that you dance salsa. I’m sorry to hear that some of the serious dancers don’t understand what it’s like to be deaf. Sometimes people are so focused on themselves and their own dancing experience that they forget that other people have their own experience of the dance, and their own needs and talents. I hope this changes for you in the future. x

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