Deaf Nigerian Dancers Delight Public, Challenge Expectations

Members of the Deaf Can Dance team pose in Ibadan, Nigeria, on Aug. 6.

IBADAN, Nigeria (Reuters) — Amateur dancer Omowunmi Otunuyi, who is deaf, delighted an audience in the Nigerian city of Ibadan, as she performed with her dance troupe in a show intended to challenge preconceptions about deafness.

“I am so glad we were able to show the audience what we could do, I’m excited because we made it happen,” said the 20-year-old in sign language.

Public performances by deaf artists are rare in Nigeria, where there is little provision for people with disabilities to access cultural and artistic activities.

Otunuyi’s way into the world of dance came through professional coach Samuel James, who launched the Seams Deaf-Pro Foundation with an ambition to give deaf performers opportunities to excel and to combat prejudice against them.

“When we go to a place to dance [people] say, ‘How is this possible, how are they able to work with songs, the sounds’… that has been our target and that is what we always push,” James said.

Otunuyi and others in the group credit James with helping them express rhythm and flow during rigorous training sessions.

“Some may think it is just a waste of energy, a waste of time,” Otunuyi signed. “I’m a born dancer. I believe there is success in this.”

James and his students have a clear purpose. “We are trying to break the biases, the prejudices against deaf people,” he said.