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Credit: Janet Gough/Celebrity Photo

Don’t underestimate Marlee Matlin when she hits the ballroom floor on season six of Dancing with the Stars. Not only does she have the focus, she has “a sense of rhythm” that a lot of may not think she has.

“So much will depend on me being in synch with my partner with my eyes, with my arms, with my legs,” the 42-year-old Oscar winner tells PEOPLE. “Plus … sign language has given me a an internal metronome.”

That innate rhythm and two powerful digital hearing aids are what she plans to use to guide her dancing — not to mention her dance pro partner.

“My partner, Fabian Sanchez, is Latin. And as any one can tell you, Latins speak with their hands, their bodies. He’s great,” she says. “We use a combination of lip reading (he’s easy to follow even if he has a slight accent), signing (the first sign he learned was “again” — he uses it a lot) and an interpreter.”

So far, she explains, training has been a lot like being on a movie set. And since dancing runs in the family — her 12-year-old daughter, who “screamed when she found out,” is a hip-hop student and dance lover — Matlin may have a better shot than most. “I’ve had no formal dance training. Though I did a little dance in Children Of A Lesser God, that was improvised,” Matlin says. “But I figure that I’m ready in that I communicate with my body when I sign and dance is a lot like that. … Right now I’m not terrified of Latin dances; I’ve got a Latin partner and he’s a Mambo champion! I’ve already begun the Cha Cha and I love it! I don’t know about jive.”

Matlin also says that, in addition to making her “friends and family proud,” she wants to “prove to that the only thing I, and 26 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing like me, really can’t do — is hear.”

And while she’s a longtime fan of DWTS — “I love the spectacle! I love the clothes!” — what really pushed her to compete in season six are her children.

“I’m really doing it for my kids because they want me to be the coolest mom ever,” she admits. “I don’t know if I’m crazy or what, but I’m going to give it my best shot!”

— Diane Clehane and Monica Rizzo

Janet Gough/Celebrity Photo