Dancer, teacher, mentor
A native and resident of Oakland, California, Antoine Hunter is s founder and director of Urban Jazz Dance Company and co-director of Iron Triangle Urban Ballet (Richmond). He’s been called “a one-man firestorm.” Last November, he participated in Philadelphia’s Deaf Arts & Culture PaH! Festival. This past April, he performed in Night of the Stars at the Black Deaf Advocates Eastern Regional Conference, co-chaired by NBDA President Fred Beam, and staged at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium. Hunter was delighted to meet Beam, another noteworthy dancer, and says, of the event, “It was wonderful!”
He has studied and performed with several noted dancers and dance companies, including Reginald Ray-Savage and Zafra Miriam/Savage Jaz (two of his greatest mentors), Ramon Alayo, Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company, and Ross Dance Company. In September, he’ll be performing with the Sign Dance Collective, the British company that also participated in the Philadelphia festival. He tours with his own company and with others—currently five of them—and teaches children and adults in over 13 locations, 6 days a week, including East Bay Center of the Performing Arts, Dance-a-Vision Entertainment, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. It's a hectic. crammed schedule, but he loves what he's doing—dancing and bringing professional-quality teaching to children, teens, and adults who would otherwise not be getting it at all.
He explains, "The hearing world didn’t take me in because I was deaf and the deaf world didn’t take me in because I could hear a little bit—that deaf didn’t consider me deaf. (I am very deaf in my left ear, and I have a small amount of hearing, with my hearing aid, in my right ear.) I felt so alone, that no one understood me."
Although he displayed an early interest and talent for dance, his mother couldn't afford to enroll him in ballet classes, so he took his first dance classes at Skyline High School—"I thought it would be a cool place to get a date," he muses, recalling that his teacher, Dawn James, worked her students hard. She was his first mentor. When she had him do a solo, he chose Whitney Houston's song, “I'll Always Love You,” and danced with such passion that his classmates said they could feel him. At that point he realized that dance was a way for him to connect emotionally and spiritually with others.
Dance, he learned, is a universal language, rather like sign language. Every nation has a different sign language, and there are many kinds of dance showing the influence of many cultures, but even if you're not familiar with the cultural background of a particular kind of dance, you can still enjoy it, be moved by it, and understand it.
He finished two years at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia (CalArts), which he loved, but had to discontinue as he ran out of money. He's currently finishing up his B.A. at L.E.A.P. (Liberal Education for Arts Professionals) at St. Mary's College of California, which is set up to accommodate the performance/teaching schedules of its students.
Hunter has mastered and teaches ballet, hip-hop, modern jazz, praise dance, African, and creative movement. He loves the challenge of teaching, and wants to make dance as accessible to as many people as he can, including those from bad neighborhoods or who have no previous training.
Occasionally, he gets to see proof that he's having an impact on his audiences. One night after he performed, he recalls, “a strong, full-grown black man came to me, crying, telling me how moved he was by my dancing that he decided to let his son do whatever he wanted to do and would help him reach his dream.” And on another occasion, a woman approached him, saying “Thank you, Mr. Hunter, for dancing. I have a 5-year-old deaf daughter, and I'm no longer worried about what she will be because I know being deaf will not stop her from reaching her dream.”
Growing up, Hunter experienced isolation and taunting, being made to feel "different and weird." That's one reason why he cherishes his experience at the NBDA's Night of the Stars, meeting Fred Beam and Ms. Black Deaf America, Jonelle Thames. “They made me feel like a hero who's found his home planet.”
He hopes to perform abroad, and to establish an arts center and dance studio for everyone who needs the opportunity to express themselves.
If you get a chance to see Antoine Hunter perform in your area—run to it!