Andy Dexterity Brings Deaf And Hearing Australians Closer Together With Music Experiences
by Lucy Rennick
If you’ve ever wondered what Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ looks like interpreted as a hybrid sign-language-dance, Andy Dexterity is the award-winning performance artist making it a reality.
As a performance artist, Andy fuses his background in choreography and physical theatre to make the arts more inclusive for everyone, including Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences.
He’s also the Mayor of Wiggle Town (quite possibly the greatest job in the world) and sports an enviably fabulous moustache.
Embracing His Inner Child
Andy’s M.O is essentially bringing his inner child to life, but it’s more than simple fun and games – he uses his unique brand of movement (dubbed ‘sign-dance’) to break down barriers, promote inclusivity and enact real positive change on the world around him.
“The work I’m focusing on is movement-based art that draws upon freedom of expression, dance, sign language and storytelling,” Andy explains. “I’m trying to create a platform of linguistic equality, made up of images that could essentially be understood anywhere in the world regardless of location, background or upbringing.”
This is what audiences got a taste of at Andy’s TEDxSydney 2017 talk, when he sign-danced/rocked out to Bohemian Rhapsody’ on stage – all six minutes of it.
“Preaching sign language to a crowd who don’t necessarily want to learn or who aren’t prepared to learn can be really jarring, but if they accidentally learn it, it’s okay,” Andy says. “So, I do Bohemian Rhapsody in a hybrid sign language dance, and afterwards they’re like, “Oh, was that sign language? Wow! It all makes sense.”
Communicating On Many Levels
If you ask Andy, he’ll tell you that physical communication achieves something that writing or speaking simply can’t. It opens up new ways of understanding one another and generates a sameness between two parties who perhaps would struggle to communicate otherwise. If he had had the choice at birth, he would’ve chosen body talk over English in a heartbeat.
“The body is here. Words are not,” he says. “A simple gesture contains an infinite amount of information that can be conveyed, whereas words seem to carry history and other people’s definitions.
“A simple facial expression can translate how you’re feeling about something a lot faster than a sentence. A shared physical communication between two people becomes a transformative experience – as opposed to just sharing words.”
Encouraging Connections Between Communities
Andy uses his skills in the performing arts space to advocate with the Deaf community in Australia, encouraging event organisers to make concerts more inclusive wherever possible. “I encourage connections between the Deaf community and the arts community whenever I can,” he explains.
“There’s always an open dialogue about whether we can make artworks more accessible, have signed performances in shows – if there’s choreography in a music video, let’s throw some Auslan content in there so it can be both beautiful, and understood by everyone who can read Auslan.”
Andy worked with pop singer Kimbra to achieve exactly that – the music video for her song ‘90s Music’ features some slick sign-dance moves.
But it’s not just pop stars and performers who Andy wants to inspire. Printing off the Auslan (Australian sign language) alphabet or taking a community course are just a couple of ways to get involved in signing, something which Andy thinks we’ll be seeing more of as awareness continues to grow.
“We’re seeing more Auslan on TV In times of disaster and emergency stories,” he says. “The Auslan interpreter is more often in the shot these days, because there’s an understanding that it’s an important part of the news story that needs to be transmitted. Sign language is becoming acceptable, and it’s also becoming trendy in a way. It’s being recognised as an art form in its own right.”
Plus, it’s not even that hard to learn. “I’m going to say it’s easy to learn because it’s an extension of the vocabulary you already have in your body. I think Auslan is a great way to remind everybody that they have a body and that they can use it to function in the world and get what they want out of life. English is not the only way to communicate to achieve an outcome,” he says. “The body is so powerful – body language makes up 55% of all communication. Learning Auslan is going to create a more cohesive community.”
Maybe we’ll all be signing the lyrics to our favourite songs on stage sometime soon. But we definitely won’t be able to grow a moustache as good as Andy’s. How does he keep it looking that perfect all the time – even while he’s moving and grooving?
“It’s not that easy,” he says. “I have about seven different products, depending on the temperature. An Uber driver once told me I should try sultanas, but I haven’t tried that yet because think it would just attract flies. It’s under your nostrils all day long, you want it to smell good.”
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