Meet: Billy Read, deaf dancer

Posted on March 15, 2012

So, here we are having a little tour around the mind of Billy Read, creator of and dancer with DefMotion and all round good egg (although he did agree that I could introduce him as an International Superhero of Renown if I so wished).

How to begin such a prestigious interview…? Why, with the random question from our last victim of course. So, Billy; do you know how to do the Chicken Dance?

The Chicken Dance? I have never heard of it, sorry!

And you call yourself a dancer…. Let’s move on. Can you tell me a little about your personal background?

Sure. I was born into a hearing family in Walsall in the West Midlands, the eldest of three with my younger brother and myself the only Deaf people in my family. At age 11 I was sent to a grammar school for the Deaf in Berkshire for 7 years. Really, this was my first proper experience of being amongst Deaf people.

Would you say it was a positive experience? Was it easy to make the adjustment from a mainstream school?

It was a very positive experience because it meant I wasn’t alienated and left out like I was at my previous school; I’d often felt that way due to being the only Deaf pupil there. Starting at a Deaf grammar school was a completely new experience for me as, with my upbringing, I was an oral person with very little experience of sign language, so I learned much from being amongst BSL users during my time there. I wouldn’t say it was a walk in the park but it wasn’t hard either, because I mingled with Deaf pupils from all different backgrounds some of whom were in just the same position as I’d been when I started there.

Do you still live in the West Midlands?

I currently live in Wolverhampton where I studied at university.

What are your personal interests?

My personal interests include stuff like digital illustration, history and politics, working out at the gym and more recently street dance.

Ah, dancing! I’ll come back to that in a moment because digital illustration sounds very interesting but I don’t really know what it means; anything with the word ‘digital’ just means computers to me. I’m a Neanderthal.

You’re right; it does mean computers – basically drawing, painting, anything an artist does but on computer instead of by hand, using software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

Thank you, I feel much more modern and less old. Dancing! How did you come to develop a Deaf dance group?

I had always been known as a massive Michael Jackson fan and would casually bust a few dance moves whenever I listen to his music. One day I decided to hook up with a friend of mine from school – Rebecca Withey, who is a professional Deaf choreographer.

As a team we put ideas together on setting up an all-Deaf dance crew that would perform visually entertaining shows to Deaf and hearing people. We had never seen or heard of an all-Deaf dance crew before, so we felt this would be a unique-selling-point for us.

Our big opportunity came when our friend Brian Duffy recommended us to perform for the Awards evening at Deaffest 2011, and everything took off from there. With Duffy’s experience in entertainment and links in high places, we were excited when he agreed to manage us and we started recruiting some young, talented Deaf individuals to join us.

What did you hope to achieve by creating DefMotion? Do you think this has happened?

Initially we hoped to deliver a performance for Deaffest that would bring everyone to their feet and make it the most memorable Awards night ever. Needless to say, judging by the response and feedback, we pretty much did our job! We had never anticipated that we would go on to perform at another major event, but we did – as the supporting act for SignMark’s debut show in the UK, at the HMV Forum last summer.

Onwards and upwards! Sounds brilliant. What are you currently working on?

We are currently working on new material and preparing for a few shows coming up this Spring and later on this year. We were pleased to be asked back to perform at Deaffest again this year, which we are busily preparing for right now. And then we have an even bigger performance coming up in the fall of 2012, which we’re really looking forward to.

Can you give us any hints about what we can look forward to from you at Deaffest?

This year there is a 1950s theme at Deaffest to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, so we will be performing some 50s inspired jazz and swing dances as well as a post-war, victory themed dance with a touch of the military about it. Apart from that, we’ll express some of our new ambitious dances that involve varied street dance styles and tight choreography.

It really does sound great! I will be there, busting some truly terrible moves. You mentioned before that you love Michael Jackson. What other dance styles or dancers do you enjoy or focus on?

Michael is the master, so virtually every artist and dancer today has been influenced by him (Chris Brown, Usher, Ne-Yo etc.) I have recently taken an interest in street dance styles such as locking and popping. I take inspiration from French street dance artists such as Les Twins, Willow and Lilou… Never mind the Americans – these guys from France are the best in the world!

Perhaps you should set a challenge! Throw down the international gauntlet! Thank you, Bill, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes – never dismiss your dreams or your passions. I have only been dancing for 4 years and it’s something I only ever did out of my personal passion and love of music. It has completely taken me by surprise to find myself gaining momentum with Def Motion, and it is all down to the desire to live out my dreams.

Can you describe yourself in a single sentence that includes the word ‘chicken’?

Hmm that’s difficult… Okay, my dad used to call me ‘chicken legs’ as a kid due to my being the smallest and skinniest person in my family.

How nice of your dad to call you that. Is your sign name ‘chicken legs’?

Thanks. Haha no way! That name disappeared when I grew up, and I think it’s best left at that. I’ve never actually had a sign name.

We shall have to find you one! It’s been really lovely having the chance to interview you, and if can ask one final thing before I let you go; what is your random question for our next victim?

Which came first – the limping chicken or the cracked egg?

Interview by Emily Howlett.

More information about Billy and the team at DefMotion can be found at their Facebook page;

Information about Deaffest 2012 can be found here;

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