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SAC student who represents Texas in the MDAP performs interpretive dance

SAC student who represents Texas in the Miss Deaf America Pageant performs interpretive dance

Vincent T. Davis
Express-News Staff Writer

When Johanna Valenta dances, it’s like music for the eyes.

She interprets emotions and the lyrics of a song through American Sign Language, body movements and facial expressions, her arms flowing with graceful gestures.

The message she conveys during the dance is something tangible, something deaf people say they feel.

Interpretive dance is just one dimension of Valenta, who serves as Miss Deaf Texas.

An education major at San Antonio College, the 24-year-old’s role involves more than beauty and talent.

“She acts as a role model for deaf women in the community,” said Sara Filippone, a lab technician at the Department of American Sign Language and Interpreter Training at SAC. “It’s a huge accomplishment for her. It’s a very serious leadership role. The pageant isn’t just about beauty; she’s a smart, capable woman.”
The San Antonio native will represent Texas at the Miss Deaf America Pageant today at the Desert Springs-JW Marriott Resort in Palm Desert, Calif. Contestants will be judged based on a private interview, platform presentation, talent performance, evening gown and onstage interview.

Valenta will perform “God Bless America” for the talent portion of her program.

Miss Deaf America serves as ambassador for the National Association of the Deaf and spokeswoman for 28 million deaf and partially deaf Americans for a two-year period.

Valenta’s reign as the 43rd Miss Deaf Texas has been bittersweet.

Originally selected as first runner-up, she assumed the title after the first Miss Deaf Texas, Tara Rose McAvoy, 18, was killed March 13 when a Union Pacific train struck her beside railroad tracks in Austin. McAvoy’s mother, Sarah McAvoy crowned Valenta on April 1.

“I knew her spirit was there with me,” Valenta said through an interpreter. “I’ll always keep her close to my heart. If I win, she wins with me.”

The pageant takes place every two years at the National Association of the Deaf Conference. The association developed the pageant 34 years ago to “elevate the image and self-concept of deaf ladies throughout the United States.”

At the state level, contestants are judged in several categories, including community service, academics, current events and knowledge of deaf culture.

Valenta isn’t a stranger to competing in the pageant. She was chosen Miss Congeniality for Texas for the past two years.

She performed her program June 16 for an audience at McAllister Auditorium. The pre-pageant event, free to the public, was her chance to preview her show for the San Antonio community.

Drawn to dance as a young girl, she counts deaf performer Bertram Weston, who appears at campuses around the country, as one of her influences.

As time for the pageant drew near, Valenta concentrated on the speech portion of her presentation.

Her speech, done in American Sign Language, is about the dangers associated with text messaging. She’ll speak about being aware of what’s going on in nearby surroundings when using a text device.

According to news reports, McAvoy was text messaging on her cell phone when the train accident occurred.

Valenta said her mission is keeping the Texas spirit going by trying to bring the national title to the Lone Star State. But whatever the outcome, Valenta said, she’s honored to be one of 50 contestants serving the deaf community.

“We’re all winners,” she said. “We’re all striving for the same goals and to help the community.”

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