On Monday night, the Dancing with the Stars ballroom just might be the happiest place on Earth.
One of our favorite contestants, Zendaya, runner-up from season 16, will be on hand as a guest judge for Disney Night, an evening that typically brings ballroom magic, fairy dust, and, well, one unhappily ever after for an eliminated contestant. But we’ll save any bibbidi bobbidi boohooing for our post show recap. For now, we’ve got insight from one of this season’s frontrunners, Nyle DiMarco, about his routine and what his time on the show is doing for the deaf community.
Nyle will welcome everyone to the jungle as he swings from the vines as the buff Tarzan, a character that he shares a deep connection with. “Tarzan was born and raised into a different culture,” he said in a chat via email. “When the ‘others’ came, he was intrigued to learn. In the end, he still went back to his home.”
Nyle, a graduate of a deaf school and a deaf university had a unique upbringing in a close-knit society. “I am Tarzan,” he said. “Tarzan and I would like for people to respect the culture differences and let them evolve on their own because they know what is the best for themselves.”
For two out of three weeks of the competition, Nyle and his partner, Peta Murgatroyd, earned some of the judge’s highest scores, but Nyle admitted before stepping foot inside the ballroom, he was actually quite “terrified.”
“I wouldn’t care if I sucked on the floor and got eliminated the first week,” he said. “It was more about my deaf community. If I screw it up, 18+ million of people would think, ‘Aw, it is because he is deaf. Deaf people can’t dance…’ when there are plenty of #DeafTalent I know out there that can dance.”
The America’s Next Top Model winner has shared his DWTS journey with his followers on social media and branded his posts with the hashtag #RedefiningDance to change the way society views people who are deaf. “My message to my deaf community is that we can redefine anything however we want. Anything is re-definable only if we believe and work hard for it,” he said.
On the season’s premiere episode, there was no doubt that Nyle and Peta’s cha cha to Cake by the Ocean impressed those who might’ve doubted Nyle’s abilities. Though they had a small fall from the judges’ graces in week two, the couple’s tango earned them the top spot on the leaderboard last week.
Since Nyle can’t hear the music at all, Peta gives her partner signals to keep the timing of the routine. “For transitions, we have cues,” he said. “Sometimes she would tap on my back. Squeeze my hand. Nod her head. Or just lead the way.”
While some would see being deaf as an obstacle in a dance competition, Nyle feels like it’s one of his best assets. “There is a research proving that deaf people have increased visual abilities,” he said. “Yes, basically I have a superpower, ha! I see a lot of things and everything in little detail. Whatever Peta shows, I am able to imitate.”
Nyle said his biggest challenge in the competition is actually footwork because Peta is training him at the level of a professional dancer. Also, having stars like Wanya Morris, Paige VanZant, and Ginger Zee have Nyle looking over his shoulder — while maintaining a strong frame of course. He said those celebs are his biggest competition.
But what’s at stake for Nyle is more than just the shiny mirror ball trophy. Each dance step he takes is a stride for the deaf community and raises awareness about The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, an organization which aims to help deaf people and their families worldwide. “Only two percent of the world’s deaf population has access to education in sign language,” he said. “Our current focus is on deaf children and their families. We wish to serve as a resource for families seeking access to accurate, research-based information about language options — bilingualism in particular (ASL and English).”
After DWTS, Nyle would like to continue his career in TV and modeling. He also revealed that he’s writing a series with a deaf writer and is looking forward to more opportunities.
We’re looking forward to watching him dance all the way to the finals. Catch Nyle’s turn as Tarzan Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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