'It's Like Music to My Eyes': Deaf Model Nyle DiMarco on Learning to Dance on 'Dancing with the Stars'

"I can't hear, but I understand the music through [my partners'] movement," says DiMarco

Photo: Yu Tsai

Nyle DiMarco may not be able to hear, but that’s not holding him back on Dancing with the Stars.

“At first we were concerned I’d be off on the timing, but [my partner Peta Murgatroyd] uses non-verbal cues – like a tap on the back or change in her facial expression – to help me figure it out,” DiMarco, 26, says in the current issue of PEOPLE. “I can’t hear, but I understand the music through Peta’s movement. It’s like music to my eyes.”

It’s a skill that was also noted by the America’s Next Top Model winner‘s Switch-Up Week partner Sharna Burgess after he scored the first 10 of season 22.

“His senses of sight and touch are heightened to a degree that most of us will never really understand,” Burgess told PEOPLE Monday night. “In the entire dance we only had to have two cues. For the rest of the routine, he could just feel where my body was moving. He could sense my timing around him. It was incredible to watch his internal timing.”

RELATED VIDEO: Nyle DiMarco’s DWTS Blog, Week 4

For more from DiMarco – including how he really feels about his shirtless performances – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

But DiMarco wasn’t always sure he had what it takes to succeed on the dance floor.

“I had never danced at all, so I almost didn’t accept,” he says of first being offered the chance to compete on the ABC reality dance competition. “I didn’t want to go out there and screw up the first week and have 18 million people go, ‘Deaf people can’t dance!’ But ultimately I decided it would be a good challenge.”

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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