Last week, I went to this dance class that promised to offer something different. It was called by a distinctive sounding African tribal name, “Bokwa.” An new up and coming dance fitness programme, the lime green flyer flashed, with a picture of a trim and toned Latino bopping to some tune.
But what’s more, it sold itself on the notion that it was “only programme today that is taught with American Sign Language and Bokwa Hand Signs for every participant, including the hearing impaired.”
My impaired ears pricked, I had decided to give it a go. It might prove to be a tad more “accessible” than those classes of dance past, when I had stumbled through routines meant for the foxtrot fantastic or when I went left when everyone went right, not hearing the music change and bumping into the person next to me, proceeding to poke them in the eye. Awkward.
We lined up in front of a mirror, our leggings and baggy t-shirt mishmash. Boom the music went, and off we went. So far, so normalistic. Up the hand of the instructor went, into a “L” handshape. Ah, so that was the idea I thought to myself. When she held up her hand in a “L”, we would dance in a L shaped line, back and forth. To show a change in step, the instructor would pat her hand on her head. Each time, she added on different types of footwork, we would jump, we would kick up our heels, we would sashay backwards and so on. All in a L shaped line.
Eagerly, I waited for more American Sign Language Handshapes. Perhaps an Z when we zig-zagged around, or a M..or even a U, a Y anybody?
Nothing. Nada. Nuppity Noo. Just this.. L shaped…”L.” For one whole hour, we danced L’s, up and down, to the right and occasionally to the left, in a reverse L.
Were they using the promise of sign language to invite unsuspecting hearing people to do “something different” or to lure sign language veterans such as myself to something that might just be up their singular L shaped street? Thoughts simmered through my head as I danced.
The question in my mind was – does anyone have the right to take sign language and boil it down to the basics, and to charge people while they are doing it? At a guess, the non-deaf related sign language industry could be making several million each year. Just look at the Baby Signs movement. This is not to mention the guy I had met in the pub who was teaching Level 1 BSL while he was still learning it himself. He was making quite a few bucks out of it too.
On the other hand, perhaps we could take a leaf out of their book and actually market sign language as something sexy, something that makes a bit of money-o. To actually do something with this craze and massage sign language into a positive and marketable industry while benefiting the community.
To be fair, according to my research, Bokwa does use other ASL handshapes. They just failed to make an appearance.
For those who do not give a toss and just want to dance, go on and find a Bokwa class near you. There are simply hundreds being advertised around the world.
That being said, the Americans sure like to squeeze all they can out of this “simple signs” industry. They are getting a Gorilla to teach people sign language. Don’t believe me? Just have a look here!
By Amanda Everitt – views are her own.
The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, training and consultancy Deafworks, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Look, Smile Chat campaign, and the National Theatre’s captioned plays.