Marlee Matlin Dances to Her Own Beat

The deaf actress utilizes her partner to help her keep the beat as she dances.

March 24, 2008 — -- While Marlee Matlin cha cha cha-ed her way into fans' hearts as the sentimental favorite on last week's "Dancing With the Stars" season premiere, many wondered how the deaf actress was able to maintain the beat and stay in perfect step with her partner Fabian Sanchez.

"Fabian is my music. Fabian, as the man, takes the lead," Matlin said. "He also is my music where I just go with him. I look at him and follow him, as if he's my music, as if he would hear it and try to do it right. It's as simple as that."

Rumors suggest Matlin and Sanchez use secret cues to communicate on the dance floor.

"I'm touching her, and I [communicate the rhythm to] her through my movement. There are no signals here," Sanchez said.

Making sure Matlin has all the right moves isn't a simple task for the 42-year-old mother of four who describes herself as profoundly deaf.

"Without hearing aids, I'm stone deaf. I hear absolutely nothing," she said.

Still, she enjoyed performing for the millions of viewers.

"It was a great feeling. It was fun and it was a total natural high," Matlin said.

Even if Matlin doesn't take home the glittering mirror ball trophy at season's end, she already has proved her hearing disability doesn't limit her aspirations.

Matlin lost her hearing at 18-months-old after a bout with the virus roseola, and has never let her silent world limit her. As a result, she netted a best actress Oscar at age 21 for 1987's "Children of a Lesser God. "

Inspiring the Next Generation

The fact that the actress, who is currently a regular on Showtime's "The L Word," has been able to accomplish so much came as no surprise to second-graders in Gallaudet University's elementary and secondary programs in Washington, D.C.

There, Matlin has served as an inspiration for hard of hearing students searching for the beat.

"I was really surprised. 'Wow — a deaf person is dancing.' So, now I want to dance also," said Zachary Jones, a dance student at Gallaudet's Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) performing arts program.

The program, which caters to the deaf and hard of hearing, teaches students to rely on eye contact and teamwork, while internalizing the beat, to develop dance skills, rather than focusing on the music.

"I would say that deaf people have to work a little bit harder in terms to make sure they are relying completely on the count and the rhythm," said Yola Rozynek, of MSSD.

They often come up with the moves first and pick the music later.

"I can hear some of the beats. We maintain eye contact and use our eyes. We keep a rhythm," said MSSD dance student Jene Kelly.

"We use counting and memorize all the dance moves. We use the counting to keep us on track and we also practice very often," said MSSD dance student Ormar Rodriguez.

As the students continue to perfect their moves, so will Matlin.

"All I can say is I'm having fun. I hope the audience is really gonna enjoy our performance as well as everybody else's on the show," Matlin said.