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American Sign Language Expert Unpacks BTS’ “Permission to Dance” Choreography

Actor, musician, ASL signer, and educator William Martinez sheds light on the details in BTS' latest

BTS Video Permission To Dance
BTS, photo courtesy of Big Hit Music
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    After releasing the definitive song of the summer, “Butter,” which spent a staggering seven weeks at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, BTS has dropped yet another joyful bop in the form of “Permission to Dance.” The rumors are true: “Permission to Dance” has now replaced “Butter” at No. 1, meaning BTS has accumulated number 1 tracks faster than any artist since Michael Jackson.

    Filmed by teams in both Seoul and Los Angeles, there’s plenty to unpack from the accompanying music video, but among the euphoric vignettes, heartfelt spotlights on service workers through the pandemic, and Jungkook’s incredibly emo haircut, one detail stands out: The BTS ARMY has been abuzz with the fact that the choreography incorporates sign language.

    William Martinez, a professional actor and musician who grew up in a deaf household, spoke to Consequence in order to shed a bit of light on the sign language details woven throughout the visual for “Permission to Dance.”

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    Martinez — who travels the country with a show called SIGNing the Song: You Have Changed My Life, inspiring educators and students alike with ASL and the unifying power of music — maintains that music can truly be a universal experience when accessibility and inclusivity are prioritized. “Music is not just for the ears. It ignites all of the senses. Music is visual and emotional,” he says, explaining that body and face are just as much a part of the musical journey as words and sounds. “One of my favorite things about ASL and music is those who have never been exposed to ASL beginning to comprehend signs and the amazing imagery they provide.”

    The pandemic posed unique challenges for so many, including the differently abled: while emphasizing that he would never speak for the deaf community, Martinez points out one of the specific hurdles throughout this time. “Many Deaf depend on lip reading to communicate with non-ASL speakers. I personally witnessed the Deaf forced to make a scary choice: protect themselves with masks, or risk infection to get more clarity.” In addition to the inclusion of sign language, “Permission to Dance” features scenes of teachers, office workers, janitorial staff, and mail carriers, and while the pandemic experience may not have been the same for people across these demographics, there’s a sense of intentionality behind the details.

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    Martinez noticed some of the differences between ASL (American Sign Language) and KSL (Korean Sign Language), highlighting that sign language is different around the world and often reflects the culture, language, and region of its speakers. While the signs used in the video for “peace” and “play” are different in KSL, one particularly important word is consistent: “The sign for ‘dance’ is the same,” he confirms. “I am excited to see sign language used in such creative ways and to such a huge audience. Accessibility and mainstream representation are so crucial to continue the fight for equity.”

    Certainly, a spotlight on the deaf community during Disability Pride Month (and the addition of a hearing aid emoji to their Twitter bio) aligns with BTS’ philanthropic track record. The group has often spoken on mental health and environmental justice, using their massive platform for positivity. Notably, the group made 2020 headlines for a donation of $1 million USD to Black Lives Matter, a number that was matched by the BTS ARMY in just over 24 hours. They’ll also be returning to the United Nations General Assembly in September, their third appearance at the global summit, this time as the recently appointed Presidential Special Envoy for Future Generations and Culture.

    “Anything can be a universal experience if equity and unconditional love are at the forefront,” Martinez adds. “Music is a magic wand that can be possessed by everyone.”

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    Editor’s note: If you’re a member of ARMY, be sure to check out Stanning BTS. Hosted by Kayla and Bethany, the bi-monthly podcast covers all things BTS. Listen/subscribe here.

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