Destined to Dance
High school senior, CiCi, wakes up at 5:45 a.m. She makes it to class by 7:15 a.m. When the bell rings at 2:30 p.m., CiCi rushes to meet her dad outside. They pick up a quick dinner, grab her dance bag, and head to the dance studio. For the next five hours, she loses herself in the music, feeling the rhythm and connecting with her fellow dancers. This 17-year-old knows she was made to dance.
Born into a family bursting with jazz musicians, gospel singers, and music lovers of all kinds, CiCi’s passion for music seemed predestined. But when she was born 13 weeks early and was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears as a baby, her parents didn’t think the life CiCi lives now would be in the realm of possibility. “Our biggest concern was that CiCi wouldn’t be able to participate in singing or music at our big family get-togethers,” said Latisha, CiCi’s mom.
After CiCi’s diagnosis, her parents chose to pursue a Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) outcome. They held out hope that their daughter might be able to join their family singalongs and connect with them over the music that means so much to them. She received her first hearing aids at 22 months and her cochlear implant at five and a half years old.
CiCi’s premature birth also meant that she required physical and occupational therapy from a young age. When she turned four years old, her doctors recommended dance classes to develop her motor skills and muscle tone. Visiting her older cousin’s jazz and tap class was the first step that opened CiCi’s world to the power of music and dance. Her life wouldn’t be the same after that. Her natural talent caught the attention of her teachers, who encouraged CiCi’s parents to enroll her in more advanced classes when she was eight.
CICI PRACTICES AT THE STUDIO
But as CiCi’s passion and talent for dancing grew, so did her parents’ fear. They worried that their child with hearing loss wouldn’t be able to keep up as the training became more rigorous. How realistic would it be for a dance company to accept someone—however talented—with hearing loss? For the life that CiCi seemed destined to pursue, there are few role models. Dedicating up to 17 hours a week to a passion that the world might not recognize felt like a great risk for CiCi’s parents.
Nevertheless, her parents supported CiCi’s passion by allowing her to participate in summer residencies at prestigious dance companies in New York and San Francisco. Leaving the safety of her community and living in the dorm as a young teen with hearing loss built CiCi’s capacity for self-advocacy. She taught her dance teachers how to operate her FM remote microphone technology so that she could hear all the frequencies of the classical music. She made new friends who knew to warn her in case of an emergency when she took off her hearing technology for showering or sleeping. As her confidence as a dancer grew, so did her confidence as a young woman.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS IN ORDER TO BECOME AN ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD." —Latisha, CiCi’s mom
Last year, CiCi’s years of dedication to her art paid off when she was chosen to perform the lead role in her dance company’s annual production of “The Little Dancer.” Not only was she the first African American to perform the role, but she was the first dancer with hearing loss to do it. Thanks to her parents’ decision to seek an LSL outcome for their daughter as a baby, she’s breaking boundaries as a teen.
Now, as high school graduation approaches, CiCi has an important decision of her own to make: where she’ll go next. With acceptances at renowned dance schools around the country, the future is bright for this trailblazer.