As Janet Jackson's song "Escapade" pumped through the Baltimore Museum of Art's auditorium yesterday, a pair of brightly dressed dancers from the Wild Zappers, an African-American hearing-impaired dance group, jammed to the beat in synchronized time.
"We're deaf," Wild Zapper Fred Michael Beam told the audience, most of whom were at the museum for Black History Month Family Day. "How do we follow the rhythm if we can't hear?"
A few children unsuccessfully tried to answer his question. Then he explained with a broad smile, "We feel the vibration!"
The Washington-based Wild Zappers were a part of the museum's Black History Month celebration, which included face painting, storytelling, performances and, of course, art.
Kai Ra Samuels-Jackson, 3, climbed on stage with the dance troupe when it asked for volunteers. She enthusiastically waved her arms with the performers and the other children on stage.
"She sees some of this stuff on [public television]," said her father, Maxie Jackson, 37, of Owings Mills. "But it's richer for her to see it up close."
The Wild Zappers then taught the crowd how to applaud for deaf performers (wave hands and fingers in the air) and how to count to 10 in sign language.
Performer Ronnie Bradley teased the audience, telling them, "hearing people can dance just as well as deaf people."
Michael Drayton brought his 3-year-old daughter, Anja, to the museum so she could make hands-on crafts, and also so he could expose her to new things.
"It's good for her to see people who look like her and don't look like her," said Drayton, 34, of Charles Village. "I also want her to see all the wonderful things African-Americans have contributed to society."
Drayton said that, because his wife is Australian, he feels it is his responsibility to show his daughter American culture.
"Her mother isn't American," Drayton said. "I have to look to give her the most positive exposure to our culture. It's up to me."
Anja, who wore fluffy pigtails and a purple dress with matching purple shoes, said she was happy to come to the event so she could draw pictures and watch people dance who "have problems with their ears."
Leonard Singleton brought his son Matthew Lunn-Singleton to yesterday's celebration, partly to get his face painted. Matthew, 4, had yellow and red dashes of paint slashed across his face.
"I generally attend all the Black History Month festivities across the city," said Singleton, 45, of Roland Park. "I bring Matthew along. A lot of times, he will point out things to me I don't even notice myself."