OAKLAND — Antoine Hunter is used to talking about what most would call his disability.
Despite a prestigious resume in ballet and jazz dance, Hunter is labeled first and foremost a Deaf dancer.
But instead of distancing himself from the label, Hunter has embraced it by becoming an ambassador for “Deaf culture” in the Bay Area. He is the founder and creative director of Urban Jazz Dance Company, an ensemble that incorporates sign language into its choreography, and the President of the Bay Area Black Deaf Advocates.
A native of West Oakland, Hunter was born completely deaf in his left ear and “hard of hearing” in his right. Nonetheless, he learned to dance at Oakland’s Skyline High before attending the California Institute of the Arts on scholarship.
Having emerged from a rough neighborhood, with only his mother as a role model, Hunter has turned his focus toward helping others.
“I try to be the role model for the community and to be the one to say ‘I’m going to do it’,” he said. “I want to make a path for others who are Deaf, for people of color or who are low income—people who need a voice.”
Hunter dances around the world, primarily with artists without hearing disabilities, but he feels most comfortable with his own company. Dancing with others who are hard of hearing, he said, allows them to be free to express themselves in different ways than more conventional dance groups.
“Not everyone is going on the same choo-choo train,” he said. “The dancers have to find a way to work together while everybody is feeling the music differently.”
See the video above for more about Hunter’s relationship to music and his promotion of Deaf culture.