SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Alone in a dance studio, Antoine Hunter is stretching and warming up. "Everything in life is like a dance for me. Everything is moving. For me, if you don't move, it's like you can't breathe," says Hunter, an Oakland native. "I would say I came out of my mother's womb dancing."
Hunter is a professional dancer and the artistic director of the Urban Jazz Dance Company. He is also Deaf.
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"At first, I didn't really know I was doing it, doing it, you know what I mean?" he says of his dancing. "I just wanted to dance, I just wanted to be free to express."
He discovered his love for dance when his mother took him to the Oakland Ballet as a child to see "The Nutcracker."
"It was beautiful," he said of the performance.
He recalls an early memory of being in a dance class at Skyline High School. He was assigned to create a dance as part of a group but ended up working alone. "Being the only Deaf person in class, many were maybe afraid to work with me," he said. "So I go ahead and did it by myself."
"That was the first time in my life that I experienced lightning hit my body. The ocean was there. I felt fire. It was like the elements of the world were just moving through me," Hunter said.
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His class applauded his performance and were able to describe the emotions Hunter was trying to convey. He discovered that dance was a way to communicate with others.
"It really saved my life," he said, "Because people couldn't understand me. I didn't even want to be a part of the world because people couldn't understand me."
Hunter founded the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival. The annual event showcases the artistic contributions of Deaf and hard of hearing people from all over the world.
"Deaf people love music," Hunter says. "We have a real audience, who appreciate the art and the passion of Deaf people and their culture."
Hunter has a message for young Deaf people, or anyone who feels like they don't fit in or don't want to be a part of the world, as he puts it.
"You are beautiful. You're beautiful on the beautiful days. You're beautiful on the ugly days. You're beautiful when you do everything right. You're beautiful when you make a lot of mistakes. Just continue knowing that you're beautiful."
He finishes by saying, "Go ahead, be free, use art. Because you can be anything with art."
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Feeling the music: How Oakland native Antoine Hunter dances professionally while being Deaf
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