When I first heard that Nyle DiMarco would join the cast of Dancing with the Stars this season, I was incredibly intrigued and excited to see him perform. Nyle is a model and actor who has been deaf his entire life.
This week, Nyle performed a spectacular Paso Doble dance routine with professional partner Peta Murgatroyd. For several seconds during their performance, the music paused and Nyle danced in complete silence in order to give the judges and audience a glimpse of what it’s like for him to dance every single week.
This isn’t the first time ABC has invited celebrities who have a disability to participate in the show. Each time, the audience and viewers are amazed to see these contestants overcome obstacles and fight against the stigma associated with disabilities. This time, however, Nyle gave us a precious gift that isn’t so easy to give: an opportunity to understand his perspective a little better.
As someone who also has a disability, a neuromuscular disease, that is something I cannot easily do for the people around me. The one question I can’t ever quite answer is, “What does it feel like?” It has been posed to me several times, but I’m never sure exactly how to respond. I can repeat to you the textbook description, it causes muscle weakness through the entire body, but I don’t know how to describe what that feels like. I’ve never known anything else through entire life. I can tell you about feeling tired at times or encountering things that I just cannot make my body do even though I know it should, but it’s not something I can show you or help you experience for yourself. My body does not know what it’s like not to be weak so I can’t tell you how to interpret daily tasks in a way that would account for the difference in muscle strength. I know what those differences look like in action – for example, running versus walking more slowly – but I don’t know what that would feel like physically for someone else with normal strength. It would be a wild guess if there was anything that could mimic my experiences in this world for your own body.
Understanding deafness I know cannot be fully conveyed through simplifying it to a few moments of silence. It’s more complex than that and no one can ever really know what it’s like unless they’ve experienced it for themselves. Even though my TV was silent, I could still hear the noises outside my window and down the hall. I could hear the music and voices again once the sound came back on. I still don’t know completely what Nyle’s world is like or how exactly he learns to dance and perform without hearing the music. But for a few seconds, I did have an opportunity to see a little more clearly what it’s like to dance in his shoes. Because of that, we can all be more aware and understanding of deafness, while being able to have a greater appreciation of the hard work and effort he has put into developing his talent of dance.
Every person encounters slightly different circumstances in their own small part of the world. No one’s life is exactly like another’s. The same type of disability can even look a little different on each individual. We all experience situations in a profoundly personal way. Nyle and Peta’s dance showed us that if we all make an effort, we can have the ability to see from someone else’s perspective. We can take a moment to see with different eyes, or hear with different ears, and discover something we may not have understood before. The uniqueness that comes with disability may be scary from the surface because people aren’t used to interacting with people who are a little different than they are. But if we’re willing to step out of our comfort zones, we might be able to see what the world is really like for someone else. We might be able to know how to love and encourage people better. We might be able to understand and see beautiful things.
We might be able to empower each other a little more.