Tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to where you are today?
I am Antonie Hunter, the Founder and Artistic Director of the Urban Jazz Dance Company in Oakland, California. Being based where the Black Panthers organization was once headquartered, I am a multi-talented individual, teaching dance to both Deaf and hearing students at the Urban Jazz Dance Company. As an award-winning African, Indigenous, Deaf, Two-Spirit producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor, and Deaf advocate, I am deeply involved in the world of art. With a strong belief in the profound impact of art, I use dance to inspire and convey emotions. Despite facing challenges in understanding my identity as a Deaf, Black, and male individual, I embarked on a transformative journey of self-discovery. In my household, I was surrounded by 11 women, and I shared a close bond with my mother.
While I once faced a point of hopelessness, dance became my lifeline during high school, helping me regain trust and heal. Dancing became my passion, allowing me to express my true feelings through art. Through my dance experiences, I discovered my soul and superpower, forging a deep connection with this expressive form.
My legacy stands as a testament to the transformative impact of art, inspiring others to find their voices and superpowers through creative expression. Grateful for who I am, I continue to help others harness the power of dance and art.
You have enjoyed an impressive professional career. What inspired you to first get into the world of dance?
My deep passion for dance encompasses performing, directing, and choreographing with limitless creativity. I have had the privilege of showcasing my dancing skills on various stages and at festivals, captivating audiences both nationally and internationally. This passion ignited during my high school days when I discovered my unique voice and superpowers through dance, setting me on an extraordinary journey across the USA and beyond.
To my surprise, my performances inspired both Deaf and Hearing individuals to break free from their constraints and express their true emotions through art and dance. Witnessing this transformative power has been truly beautiful as people unveil their inner selves through the art of movement. I find immense fulfillment in seeing others liberate their artistic spirit through dance, fostering a profound sense of connection and unity within humanity.
Tell us about your company, Urban Jazz Dance Company. How did it come to be?
I vividly remember the start of my dance journey when I began teaching dance classes. Little did I know that this humble beginning would pave the way for my dream, the Urban Jazz Dance Company. The turning point came at the Bay Area Art and Soul Festival in Oakland when I was mistakenly introduced as the show’s presenter. Without hesitation, I went with the flow and delivered a captivating solo performance with my troupe that left the audience in awe. Word of our mesmerizing performance quickly spread, leading to the creation of the Urban Jazz Dance Company.
Over the past 16 years, the company has grown stronger, attracting dance enthusiasts who share a passion for the art. I feel incredibly blessed to witness the company’s growth and am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for our continued expansion in the coming year and beyond.
What is your most proud accomplishment to date?
I take immense pride in the experiences I have encountered throughout my journey. One of the most memorable moments was my time in Cuba, where I participated in a vibrant costume carnival and performed on both small and grand stages, alongside the Urban Jazz Dance Company. It was an unforgettable experience for all of us.
Furthermore, the Bay Area International Deaf Festival has been a thriving annual dance festival. The upcoming festival scheduled for August 4-6th, 2023, promises to showcase various dances and art forms, providing a platform for people to freely express themselves. Since its inception in 2016, the festival has grown strong, attracting diverse communities, including BIPOCs and Deaf Spaces, coming together to share their passion. I am amazed by the international attendance each year, reflecting the festival’s impact in fostering unity and breaking down barriers between Deaf and Hearing individuals on the dance floor.
What advice would you give to other inspiring dancers living with disabilities?
Despite facing challenges as a Deaf individual and dealing with a back injury at L1 L2, my passion for dance remains unwavering. I firmly believe in following one’s spirit, trusting instincts, and embracing the body as an expression of identity. My multiple disabilities have not hindered my ability to inspire others, as I encourage people to push beyond limits and find various ways to stay connected to the art of dancing.
Currently, I thrive as a director and choreographer for performance stages. My journey serves as a powerful example, demonstrating that disabilities should never dampen one’s love for dance. I empower others to discover their true selves through dance, proving that passion knows no boundaries. My determination and resilience continue to inspire people to break free from limitations and embrace the limitless possibilities of expressing themselves through the art of dance.
Your work as a disability activist is inspiring. How did you first become an activist? What advice do you have for others hoping also to become disability activists, whether as a person with a disability or as an ally?
I strongly believe in being authentic and fostering mutual support and learning. As a disability activist, my mission is to unite and assist others. This dedication has led me to become an advocate for various communities, with a particular focus on the Black Deaf Community. My involvement goes beyond one organization; I serve as a board member for the Bay Area Black Deaf Advocates and actively participate in seven other organizations. My ultimate goal is to create better and more inclusive communities for everyone.
I emphasize the significance of hearing individuals truly listening to the voices of the Deaf Community and supporting one another. This fosters a harmonious and integrated world. I firmly believe that understanding and supporting each other can lead to a more compassionate and inclusive society.
What can we expect to see from you in the next year?
I am filled with excitement for the upcoming year and beyond with my company. One of my goals is to establish sister companies with the Urban Jazz Dance Company in India and Turkey, spreading the joy of dance to new horizons. Additionally, I dream of producing a captivating dance movie, showcasing my artistic vision on the silver screen. Who knows, you might see me on TV more often in a lighthearted manner.
However, my true passion lies in extensive travel to collaborate with other artists in Canada and various international countries, including Africa, to create magnificent dance projects. Working alongside the talented artist Zula Star brings me great enthusiasm. Despite my busy schedule, I will remain dedicated to teaching dance, choreographing performances, and captivating audiences on school stages and beyond, inspiring others with my boundless passion for the art of dance.
What message would you like to share with the world about the importance of inclusivity and the power of the arts, such as dance, to unite people?
My philosophy centers on inclusion and unity, ensuring that no one is left behind as we journey together. I encourage others to draw inspiration from the notion that if they can’t find their place, they possess the ability to create a new one. Embracing creativity plays a crucial role in discovering one’s true self along the journey.