June 30, 2013

A signer of the times: Falmouth woman's rap hands go viral

A deft American Sign Language interpreter at concerts and music festivals has many fans of her own.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

What's the sign for chillin'?

click image to enlarge

Holly Maniatty of Falmouth demonstrates her live music signing technique to the lyrics of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck.” Here she signs: "So what's up, man?"

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

"Coolin', man."

Additional Photos Below

Does it vary from state to state? Is it different depending on who is doing the chillin'?

When you spend hundreds of hours preparing to translate a rap concert into American Sign Language, as Holly Maniatty of Falmouth does, these are things you think about.

At least, she does.

"Well, if a grandmother was chillin', doing nothing, it would probably be this," said Maniatty, holding her hands up fairly daintily, a pleasant grin on her face.

"But if it's a member of (rap group) Wu-Tang Clan chillin', it would be like this," she said with an intense expression in her eyes and her hands held higher.

Maniatty, 33, interprets 30 to 40 live music concerts a year. It's a passionate sideline to her main job as an ASL translator for a company that helps hearing-impaired people make phone calls.

Her speed and skill interpreting rap gained her worldwide Internet fame earlier this month when videos of her signing lyrics rapped by Wu-Tang Clan at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee went viral.

Clips of her signing at break-neck speed appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC and on "Chelsea Lately" on the E! cable network.

In the videos, Maniatty's hands, head and body move so fluidly, and so rapidly, that she looks like she's dancing to the rap beats. But she makes it clear that while she loves rap music, she is definitely not dancing.

"Everything I do is very strategic, to convey the emotion, the beat," said Maniatty, sitting outside a cafe last week near her South Portland office. "If the beat is 'boom, chica boom,' I might move one way, but then it might change and the moves are different. There was one line (at Bonnaroo) where they talked about getting pulled 'waaaay over,' so I leaned back to emphasize that."

Maniatty's passion for her profession has made her a sought-after ASL interpreter nationwide and earned praise from entertainers, audience members and her peers.

"One thing that makes Holly stand out among the group is her ability to keep calm and think quick," said ASL interpreter Jenn Abbott of Long Island, N.Y., who signed alongside Maniatty at Bonnaroo. "She has such an amazing grasp and understanding of American Sign Language that the craziest of rap freestyles cause this switch to flip, and she's so on point, it's amazing."


Maniatty grew up in Newport, Vt., near the Canadian border, where her mother worked in advertising at the local newspaper.

As a youngster, she thought she'd grow up to be an artist. She loved visuals and working with her hands.

In high school, she was searching the website of the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology because she had heard about its graphic design programs, and came across information on its sign-language programs. Although she was never exposed to the idea before, she knew at that moment it was what she wanted to do.

Maniatty got a degree in American Sign Language and went on to get a National Interpreter Certification: Master classification, as well as a Certificate of Interpretation and Certificate of Transliteration.

She moved from Rochester to the Portland area in 2003 and has been here since.

Maniatty first got into interpreting at concerts -- which she mostly does as a volunteer, without pay -- in Rochester about 10 years ago. A deaf patron made a request (which is how most concerts come to have interpreters) for an interpreter at a Marilyn Manson concert.

Other interpreters turned it down. Maniatty, who loves all music and became a big rap fan in college, thought it would be fun to interpret the lyrics of the controversial rocker.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

"Chillin' chillin'"

click image to enlarge

Holly Maniatty has made a name for herself as a sign language interpreter for live music concerts. “Everything I do is very strategic, to convey the emotion, the beat,” she said, mugging here with the sign for “camera.”


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)