Princess Grace Statue Award, 1988

Princess Grace Award
Dance Apprenticeship, 1987
Pennsylvania Ballet



My name is Melissa Carpenter.  Although I am American, I was born in Capetown, South Africa where our family lived for five years.  I was born Deaf and with Learning Disabilities during a world wide Rubella epidemic.  When we returned to America I was 3 and soon saw my first ballet, “The Nutcracker.”  I immediately became fascinated with dance.  At age 11, after being rejected by the PA Ballet School because I was Deaf, I took informal lessons from a teacher at our church and performed some modern dance at the church.
Our family moved to Boston, and after first being refused, Boston Ballet finally allowed me to audition for classes.  The teacher accepted me with ease because he had taught the deaf daughter of a famous Opera Singer in NY.  I first performed (in “The Nutcracker!”) a few months later at age 13.  Soon I was awarded a Boston Ballet Scholarship and two NYC Ballet Summer School scholarship in Saratoga Springs, NY.  After graduating from high school, I received a scholarship for the PA school of Ballet.  After a one year apprenticeship, I joined the PA Ballet Company.  During my time with the company I was awarded the national Princess Grace award for Dance.

I stayed with the PA Ballet for 3 years.  When my family moved to San Francisco, I decided to audition for the San Francisco Ballet Company.  I was accepted first as an Apprentice, then as a member of the Corps de Ballet.  Because I was the only ballerina to dance in a major American company, I was featured on the NBC “Today Show,” some newspaper articles and several magazines, including the well known “Dance Magazine.”  While in the Company, I performed in many U.S. cities and in Europe.  Performing at the famous Opera House in France was a highpoint for me.

After 13 years in professional ballet I realized that although I loved being in the ballet I felt alone much of the time, only among hearing people.  There was no interpretation for me and the emotional pressure of rehearsals, without any sign language support, was tremendous.  It began affecting my performance and my emotional health.  At age 29 I made a difficult by necessary decision.  I left my beloved world of Ballet.  For a few years I drifted, taking some odd jobs but not feeling happy about them or about myself.

Fortunately, I had taken art classes while working in the ballet companies.  In Philadelphia, I studied at the famous Moore College of Art.  In San Francisco, I studied at the U. of S.F. College of Art.  In Boston I decided to continue this and studied at the Museum of Fine Arts.  My art allowed me to express myself once again and I regained my sense of self.

In 2002 I met Joseph Shaw in Washington D.C. at a ‘Deafway-2’ international conference.   He is also Deaf.  We fell in love and were married very soon after we met.  Joseph and I lived for a few weeks in NY, then moved back to Boston where he found a job with a local Tee-shirt company.

Joseph and I decided to found our small business in May of 2006, VOW ART, and our website.  This is our family business.  Joseph has made STOP THE WAR tee shirts available through our website or directly from our studio.  Many people have affirmed my work, and I have begun to show and sell my paintings.  I am thrilled to be working as a professional artist once again.  I feel I have proved that Deaf people can do almost anything they wish to do in life if they work hard to achieve it.

Our Studio is located in Arlington, Massachusetts.