Marlee Matlin — a gorgeous and talented 43-year-old Deaf actress and Academy Award winner — made her debut last night on Dancing with the Stars, but few people realize the magnitude and the magnificence of her accomplishment.

As a profoundly Deaf woman, Marlee is unable to hear the music or the vibrating bass to help her feel the beat, so she instead must rely on her excellent memory to count steps and she “sees” the sound of the music in the body of her dancing partner.

Last year, on Dancing with the Stars, the deceitful Heather Mills — a woman with a prosthetic leg — competed on the show and did well. Which woman had the harder task of dancing? Heather, who could hear, but only had one leg, or Marlee who has two legs but cannot hear the music? Here is Marlee dancing her heart out last night in a sexy Cha-Cha-Cha.

Marlee wins the difficulty rating by a landslide. Not only must see “see” the music in her partner’s body; she is forced to rely on an interpreter to understand what is being said in the room and what is being taught. Marlee must sift through layers of communication just to get to a base understanding that Hearing people take for granted.

Marlee’s communication triad is confounding to the uninformed: Marlee’s comprehension must travel from her teacher through her interpreter to her, and then from her and back through her interpreter and back to her teacher. Imagine trying to teach dance steps through that impossible translation chain!

Not only does that make her learning slower and harder — compared to the ordinary teacher/student dyad — it also places an extra burden on her dance partner, who must not only be a great dancer and teacher, but an extremely patient person as well.

I know Marlee will go far in the competition, but I hope the judges will begin to realize the mountains she has to climb just to just get even on the dancing playing field. Last night, her lackluster score of 22 out of 30 points rang faint praise on a dynamic and astonishing performance.

The overall winner of this season’s Dancing with the Stars will be, without a shade of doubt, the incredible Kristi Yamaguchi: Olympic figure skater and two-time World Champion. Kristi is magical. She lifts the spirit with her dancing.

Both Kristi and Marlee provide an amazing gracefulness on the dance floor that stuns the mind and emboldens the heart — and their wispy elegance proves SuperGenius will never be limited by context, or divided by age, or remanded by circumstance — and we are all made better in their effervescence.

13 Comments

  1. Yup, anne, they did say that — and what a horrible, discriminatory thing to say!
    “Sure, you can’t hear the music. Sure, you have to rely on an interpreter to learn, but you’re just like everyone else, so no breaks, no favors for you in the judging.”
    Huh?
    If the world believed what the judges believe, there’d be no ADA or sign language or hearing aids or other assistive devices to help equalize the disabled with the “able-bodied.”

  2. Anne —
    The judges just have to keep in mind that she’s Deaf and that she has higher hurdles to leap than the other contestants because of her disability.
    They don’t have to pre-quantify their judgment or give her extra points, but they need to take into consideration her disability in their decision making.
    What they said to her last night is that her disability doesn’t matter because she’ll be judged as the rest of the competitors and that, in its essence, is discriminatory.

  3. Anne —
    Monica Seles was just awful — and she’s able-bodied! 😀
    But I give Monica much more applause and comfort than, say, Scary Spice from last year because Monica had to work so hard to just get to awful while Scary was a natural and professional dancer and she threw away her talent and promise by spreading herself too thin.
    In many ways the show is patently unfair in that you have experienced star dancers competing against absolute novices. They need to even the dance filed a bit more fairly in the future.