I don’t consider myself to have a hearing loss. I was born profoundly deaf, so if I never had hearing in the first place, I haven’t lost anything. I was born into a hearing family who had no contact or knowledge of Deaf people at all. My mother noticed something ‘was not quite right’ and that sometimes I didn’t react to sounds and noise. We were living in Wyrallah, near Lismore in Northern NSW, and she took me to the doctor for a test. The doctor said I had a significant hearing loss, but needed to go to Sydney for more tests. I was six weeks old – it was extremely rare in those days for a diagnosis to be picked up so early. After further tests in Sydney, it was confirmed I was profoundly Deaf. I was six months old.
I was given hearing aids straight away – those very chunky things which I kept pulling out. The doctors in Sydney wanted to give me a cochlear implant, but because I would have been the first baby in Australia to be implanted—that was 1984—my parents were reluctant and skeptical, and decided not to. I never wanted a cochlear implant as I grew older, so I have worn hearing aids all my life. I don’t wear them as much now as they give me massive headaches, are very distracting and actually not that helpful. I use Auslan as well as spoken and written English to communicate. I have signed since I was a baby.
It was when I was about four or five years old I realised that not everyone was Deaf like me. My family all signed so I thought everyone was the same and couldn’t hear. When I realised I was the only Deaf person in my family, I struggled with that, even though my family always accepted me for who I am. I questioned why it was me who was born Deaf and not my brothers.
I continued to struggle with my Deafness in my teens, but remember going to a Deaf camp in Brisbane when I was 13 and having so much fun! I remember telling Mum when I got home that I liked being Deaf and it wasn’t so bad after all. Looking back, it’s the other Deaf kids I went to school with who helped me accept it. We were a very cheeky, tight-knit group who stuck together. I am very grateful to them and they played a big part in my journey. I remember when I was about 10 years old, I was out in Byron Bay having dinner with my family, and we saw a Deaf couple. I just stared at them. I was in awe, and thought the signing was so beautiful. It was a moment of pride in being Deaf.
I started dancing when I was six years old until I was about 13 years old. I stopped in high school. I didn’t believe that I could do dance as a career. When I was around 19 I saw a Bangarra performance and had an epiphany. In that moment I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer. I moved to Melbourne and picked up dance classes and ended up studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts in Contemporary Dance, and the rest is history. Moving to Melbourne has been wonderful because there are so many smart and talented and interesting Deaf people around. Most, if not all of my friends sign. My partner is a CODA (child of Deaf adults). Communication is not an issue.
My Deafness is a big part of my identity and has a significant influence on my dancing and my arts practice. It makes me feel alive. It’s exhilarating. And I am a movement junkie who loves being physical and pushing my body to its limits. But dancing is also nurturing and replenishing. It keeps my mind sharp, my senses heightened, my muscles and bones strong and toned, it calms my heart, and it keeps me sane. Music and sound has its place in dancing and performance and so does silence. In most of the dance projects I have been involved in we create material or choreography without music and add it later.
I enjoy music and going to warehouse parties and clubs where I can feel the bass and move to the music – though this is a totally different experience from being in the dance studio, where I don’t feel the music as much. It’s very important for me to be able to feel the music in performances. While I cannot hear the nuances in the music such as specific instruments or lyrics, feeling the heavy beats gives me energy and keeps me connected to the choreography and the act of performing. My Deafness has given me many opportunities and experiences in life. Dance and the performing arts is now my career. I am living the dream!