Welcome Billy Read! Billy is a profoundly Deaf professional dancer from the U.K. who co founded Defmotion dance company. Billy travels the world working with many international hearing and Deaf musicians and dancers. His choreography is fresh and enlightening, influenced by BSL (British Sign Language), he produces unique and engaging movements.
Not only does Billy teach D/deaf, hard of hearing and hearing children dance led in BSL, he is also developing a new Hip hop theatre show called ‘Forbidden Identity’ about the struggles of a Deaf child in a hearing world.
Hi Billy! Tell us about your childhood?
I became profoundly Deaf at the age of three.
I grew up in a hearing family where only myself and my brother are Deaf.
We faced many difficulties communicating with our family.
How was school?
I went to a mainstream primary school where I was the only Deaf pupil, and then I went to a secondary school for the Deaf and finally got to be around Deaf people for the first time.
Did you have deaf and hearing friends in childhood?
In mainstream school I struggled to make friends but I did manage to have a couple of hearing friends. In secondary school, everyone was Deaf like myself, so I was able to meet and make new friends with many Deaf people.
How do you prefer to communicate?
Growing up I didn't sign and was oral, and since secondary school I learned sign language. I now sign in BSL as my first language. I usually wear hearing aids.
What made you get into dancing?
I actually started dance quite late - I was 21 years old when I got into dance. It was due to my being a huge fan of Michael Jackson, the way he was so visual and dynamic really captivated me and I was eager to learn all of his iconic moves and choreography, so I started teaching myself from MJ's music videos on YouTube, and that's how it began.
How did your dance company Defmotion start?
I was at university and some of my Deaf friends noticed I had good Michael Jackson dance moves, and one of them happened to work for Deaffest. They asked me if I'd set up a new Deaf dance group to perform at Deaffest in 2011. They wanted something fresh and never seen before and that was the birth of Defmotion.
What is your role within Defmotion?
I co-founded the group along with Rebecca Withey and my role has been choreographer and lead dancer. All the original members have moved on. I now work as a solo performing artist under Defmotion as well as in a duo with my partner Ariel Fung, a Deaf dancer from Hong Kong. I also collaborate with other Deaf dancers from around the world, and I regularly teach classes too.
What is your process of interpreting the music/brief/choreography?
I rely on audio memory whereby I listen to the music many times to be familiar with the various layers. I do this by using hearing aids, then I take them off and listen to the music, as it sounds different - I only hear the low frequencies without hearing aids. I also listen again using a subwoofer for better quality and so I can feel the vibrations too. All of this builds the music in my mind, which I can play in my head while creating the choreography.
Do you incorporate BSL in every dance?
It depends on the project really. Usually I just do street dance, Hip Hop, and choreography, but recently I have explored infusing sign language into dance, as well as VV (visual vernacular) and theatre with dance too.
We loved your video 'Silenced', how did that come about?
Thanks. I was contacted by Parole Aux Sourds from Paris, who had an idea for a campaign exploring sign language and movement in a song. I flew to Paris for the video shoot which was produced by BETC and the song was written by a duo called Haute.
What are the barriers faced by D/deaf dancers?
The inability to hear music is seen as an obvious barrier for Deaf dancers, and is the reason not many Deaf people consider music and dance as a possible career path.
The other main barrier I have noticed especially for Deaf professional artists like myself, is it difficult to find work in the mainstream as a dancer alongside hearing peers, as it's assumed that we can't dance to the music the same way hearing professionals can if we don't hear the music, and therefore we are not considered for roles/events in the mainstream.
What can make the difference in breaking those barriers down?
There are ways to overcome the music barrier, including the use of visual cues, which really helps Deaf dancers especially in crews, to keep in sync with each other and in time with the music. Having powerful speakers helps too as the vibrations are useful in feeling the beat.
The issue with being accepted in the hearing dance communities can be resolved by understanding that Deaf dancers rely on other methods (such as visual cues etc.) to keep in sync. Also, by simply giving us a chance, they will be surprised - the Deaf contestant Rose on Strictly is testament to that.
With inspiring people like you Billy and Chris Fonseca..
How do you see the future for deaf dancers?
I believe that due to role models like myself there will be more and more Deaf people taking up dance as a profession. I know for certain that many young Deaf kids have been inspired by myself alone. It's a matter of time.
Who are your inspirations?
My main inspiration and the reason I started dancing is Michael Jackson, I am also inspired by street dancers like Tobias Ellehammer from the UK, Vinh Nguyen from the US, and Salah from France.
Words of inspiration to aspiring deaf dancers and children about their dreams.
Don't worry about what others think or what they've said. Do what makes you happy. "Deaf people can do anything except hear."
Thank you so much for sharing your talent and story with us Billy! You can check out his socials and sites on:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/defmotion
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/defmotion
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/DefMotion
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/DefMotion11
- website: https://www.billyreaddancer.com