Performance runs in Shaheem Royal’s family. His father was an entertainer, passing away before Shaheem was born and at four years old, Shaheem suffered inner ear nerve damage, leaving him permanently deaf. It was those two losses that led him on an incredible journey – learning to dance, and bridging the gap between the hearing and deaf communities.
Shaheem suffered through years of isolation and lack of communication before learning American Sign Language in high school. At the age of 11, he was shown a video of his father dancing, recorded long before Shaheem was born. That inspired Shaheem to pursue dance, honoring his family and a father he never knew. It’s an incredible amount of work to learn to dance without the ability to hear music, but Shaheem is quick to explain that he feels the music by following his heart. “Feeling is like an earthquake, where you can move your body to match the beat,” he explains. “I memorize the beat, over and over. I count and play it from the beginning, ten seconds at a time, for over 30 times.” Only then does he move to the next step.
These days, Shaheem is a professional dancer featured in several music videos, as well as a choreographer and the founder of American Sign Language (ASL) Incorporated; an endeavor which combines ASL and dance. Through his organization, he changes lives, educating both the hearing and deaf communities on how to support each other artistically, as well as using his incredible talents to mentor up-and-coming dancers. The objective of ASL, Inc. is to bring people together, much like Shaheem’s personal goals. “I want my own dance studio, to teach dance/sign language classes, and to continue working with other dance artists, deaf artists, singers, rappers, and more.”
Shaheem spends long hours each day, achieving what so many people believed would be something too difficult to accomplish. To his doubters, he responds with a big smile, some amazing moves, and a look that says he’s just getting started.