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Words: Tracy Knox.  Photo credit: Helene Starke Photography. Article from the DO IT NOW Online Magazine.

Posted: March 5, 2014

Entertainment
Simoné Botha has not let anyone stand in her way of becoming a professional dancer despite the fact that she has a profound hearing loss. This young lady was born to perform and has made it her goal to show the world that a hearing-impaired dancer can make it to the top.

Simoné Botha has not let anyone stand in her way of becoming a professional dancer despite the fact that she has a profound hearing loss.

DO IT NOW Media spoke to Simoné to find out more about the experience of dancing deaf.

Q: You started your dance career at the tender age of two. Has it always been your dream to dance professionally?

Most definitely! I never saw myself doing anything else. The stage is where home is and I am in my element when performing. On stage I can be myself. I love the challenge of acting out different characters.

Q: Two is a very young age to start ballet. The average age is about 4. Why did you start so early?

I looked up to my older sister, Elnette, who at that stage was four years old. I could never sit still when watching her in class. I copied the children’s arm and leg movements from my mom’s lap. I so badly wanted to do what they were doing. The ballet teacher, Natalie Swanepoel, later said to my mom, “She is actually still way too young, but her whole body and soul wants to be on the dance floor. Let her come and dance with the others, even if she just stands at the back of the class.”

Q: How are you able to dance with your hearing aid without it falling off as you twirl and leap around?

The speech processor for my Cochlear Implant (CI) that I wore as a child was twice the size as today’s cellphones. I had to find a way to wear it while dancing, thus my mom came up with a brilliant plan. She designed a pocket on the inside of my leotard. As a result, my CI was safe as I danced away. I looked normal from the front, just like the other dancers. What I did not realise is that when I turned around, the children wondered and often questioned the strange rectangular shape on my back. I had brought something new to their world, something they had no idea about.

Today my CI is much smaller and fits just behind the ear. I have had many problems in the past where I did a pirouette and it flew off. Naturally, it broke and had to be sent in for repairs. A very expensive exercise! As the years went by I became proficient at making adaptations to suit my needs as a dancer. I now stick physio strapping plaster behind my ear and the CI sticks like super glue! I can now skip, leap, twirl and roll on the floor and know that my CI is safe.

Q: Many people thought you couldn’t become a professional dancer because you are hearing impaired. Was it a difficult challenge to constantly prove them wrong?

The life of a professional dancer does not start right after you finish university. Its starts with your very first ballet class. Through the years you meet teachers, choreographers and company directors who believe in your capability as a dancer and those who don’t. Those who didn’t believe in me only made me more determined to prove them wrong.

I was six years old when I danced in the finals at an Eisteddfod and an adjudicator had to choose the section winner. I did not win and I accepted it, but the next day my parents received a phone call from a very emotional adjudicator. She explained that she had made a big mistake and couldn’t sleep the previous night. She added that when she was trying to decide the winner between me and another girl, she asked the scribe’s opinion and the response was that she should rather let the other girl win because the ‘little deaf girl’ will never make it anywhere in the world of dance. The adjudicator followed her advice, but felt so guilty afterwards that she decided to give the winning prize to the ‘right’ girl.

Over the years I was also privileged to be acknowledged as a talented dancer through winning various sections and special awards without the adjudicator knowing of my hearing impairment.

Q: You’re currently a member of the Bovim Ballet Company. How does the other dancers act towards you, as a hearing impaired that cannot hear the music?

Simoné BothaThey are incredibly supportive and know that I have to rely on them with regards to the music. They are my ears. If I did not hear a correction during rehearsal and they noticed, they would repeat it for me. Bovim Ballet is one big family where everybody supports one another in some way.

Q: Last year you had the opportunity of dancing in your first leading role in Bovim Ballet’s ‘Private Presley’. How did it feel when you realised that your dream to dance a leading role in a ballet production had finally become a reality?

I have danced various leading roles in contemporary productions, but this was a first for a ballet performance. I couldn’t believe it! It was truly a wonderful surprise. The role was a really nice challenge and I enjoyed myself tremendously! I have always wondered if something like this would ever become a reality for me as a hearing-impaired dancer. I will always remember this breakthrough and cherish it as one of the highlights of my life.

Q: Music is such an integral and important aspect of dance. How are you able to be in perfect time with the music if you cannot hear it?

My co-dancers know that I have to rely on them for rhythm. My eyes are my ears. They work overtime because I watch the other dancers out of the corner of my eyes. I also try to carefully listen for certain musical cues whenever possible to determine if I am too quick, too slow or in time with the music. That means that I really have to concentrate, which is mentally tiring.

As a rule my body rhythm is what guides me. When I learn a set of choreography, my body doesn’t only pick up on how the steps must be done, but also how fast or slow it must be executed in a given time frame. Thus I do not dance with a musical rhythm but rather body rhythm. I don’t hear the music; I feel it with my heart.

Today, people have difficulty believing that the dancer on stage was born totally deaf. I am often asked how I am able to dance in the front row and be in perfect time with the music when I’m deaf. This is the reward that I get for years of persistent hard work and passion to strive for what I believe in and love.

Simoné, we wish you the best of luck for your future leading roles and we look forward to watching your dancing career go from strength to strength.

More information

Simoné can be seen in Bovim Ballet’s upcoming production ‘Queen at the Ballet’, showing from 26 March to 13 April 2014 in Johannesburg, at the Joburg Theatre. For bookings, visit www.joburgtheatre.com. For more information, visit www.bovimballet.com.

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