Deaf Dancer is an Inspiration

Model Nyle DiMarco moves judges and fans on 'Dancing With the Stars'

During each of its 22 seasons, “Dancing With the Stars” has showcased all manner of inspiring celebrity contestants. For many “DWTS” fans, it’s encouraging to watch even a less-than-lithe celebrity simply get through the quickstep without major catastrophe. To watch someone perform with elegance and grace, under tight deadlines and stress, is impressive. Role models for courage, innovation, or sheer perseverance in the face of difficulty abound.

This season, 26-year-old model and actor Nyle DiMarco is the “underdog” on everyone’s radar. DiMarco, a New York native who won last season’s “America’s Next Top Model” competition, is blowing judges away despite his seeming disadvantage: He is deaf.

DiMarco cannot hear the music, but as he told People Magazine, his professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd’s direction is like “music to my eyes.” He explained, “At first we were concerned I’d be off on the timing, but [Murgatroyd] uses non-verbal cues — like a tap on the back or change in her facial expression — to help me figure it out. I can’t hear, but I understand the music through Peta’s movement.”

After his first night of competition, DiMarco wrote on Instagram, “WOW. Just WOW. TONIGHT ON #DWTS WAS JUST AMAZING! I will CONTINUE TO MAKE NOISE!! #RedefiningDANCE.”

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DiMarco, who speaks through interpreter Ramon Norrod, confessed during a Week 2 “DWTS” rehearsal segment, “I knew that a lot of the competitors were looking at me as somebody getting the sympathy card, and I made them realize I’m actually a dancer.”

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He has more than proven himself worthy.

The competition holds increasing challenges for DiMarco, but his large, multigenerational deaf family has his back. He told People, “It’s so amazing to see that support from my family. They know I’ve never danced before, but they’ve encouraged me every day.” His twin brother, Nico, who also defies disability, has been a big part of that encouragement. DiMarco explained, “[He] is deaf, like me, but he has a DJ business and loves hip-hop, so he dances quite a bit. He tried to teach me to dance when I was growing up, but I never took him up on it. I always said, ‘No, I’m going to go play sports,’ or something.”

Luckily for viewers, Nyle DiMarco finally listened to his brother.

DiMarco’s mother, Donna, who was thrilled to be on the set to support him during Week 3, said of her son, “Ever since he was a little boy, he’s been fearless. He likes to try something new and to see if he is capable of doing it.”

DiMarco’s determination and enthusiasm have not waned, and his dancing only continues to improve. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba cried after his flawless Viennese waltz — a difficult dance. She told him, “You take my breath away. You were born to dance.” Even resident judge/curmudgeon Len Goodman said of the performance, “Total eclipse. Fantastic.”

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DiMarco earned the season’s first 10 score that night. What makes Week 5’s performance even more astounding is the fact that he worked with switch-up partner Sharna Burgess, proving he can succeed with multiple dance partners and styles of teaching.

Have we mentioned that this man is deaf and still stunning people with his graceful musicality?

He did not score a perfect 40 for Week 5, but DiMarco remains unfazed. The reality star was not always so relaxed, though — even he had his initial doubts. He told People he had considered declining ABC’s offer to perform on the show, saying, “I had never danced at all, so I almost didn’t accept. I didn’t want to go out there and screw up the first week and have 18 million people go, ‘Deaf people can’t dance!’ But ultimately I decided it would be a good challenge.”

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A good challenge, indeed. And good inspiration for others who face difficulties that can actually be considered advantages — as we have seen on the show with Paralympian Amy Purdy; Noah Galloway, who lost parts of his left arm and leg during the Iraq War; and deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who competed on Season 6 of “DWTS.”

DiMarco’s website reads, “Nyle is Deaf and uses American Sign Language. American Sign Language requires the use of facial expressions and body movements; his Deafness amplifies his natural talent. His Deafness is an asset and not a limitation; he is amicable and able to communicate easily.”

Keep redefining dance and what’s possible for viewers of all shapes, sizes, and “limitations,” Nyle DiMarco. Your athleticism, grace, and courage are amazing.

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