"Deafness doesn't keep me from my passion" | Young Dancer Breaks Through Barriers

Sarah Firus-Parlby is a young dancer from New Westminster, BC, Canada. She dances 13 hours a week at K & S Dance Productions studying Acrobatics, Jazz and Contemporary. When Sarah was born, her family thought that she was a "normal baby" until  she was 6 months old. Sarah's mom started to notice that she wasn’t responding to the dog barking from the house next to us and that she didn’t turn her head when her mother called her name. At first, nobody believed Sarah's mom: "People would bang pots and pans behind me; I felt the vibrations and I turned my head," Sarah said. Doctors told Sarah's mom she was hearing just fine. But Sarah's mom knew something wasn't right. 

Photo courtesy of: Sarah Firus-Parlby [Follow Sarah on Instagram: @sarahfirusparlby]

At the age of 2, Sarah's family received confirmation: Sarah was profoundly deaf with no hearing in both ears. Hearing aids didn't work. 

After Sarah received a cochlear implant, she could finally hear but had lost the most important years of learning to speak. Her family faced another reality: "I could never sound 'normal' like most kids do," Sarah said.

Sarah learned sign language and continued with that until she got into Vancouver Oral Centre (now called Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of BC) which changed her life.

"They didn’t allow sign language so I learned to talk and socialize more. I went there for 4 years and within those 4 years, I’ve became more talkative and I wouldn’t shut up!" Sarah says, laughing. 

When Sarah was 4, still using sign language as her primary way of communicating, her mother entered her daughter's name into a drawing to win a free ballet class. Sarah loved it, and hasn't stopped dancing since. 

Here is Sarah's talk with us: 

When did you realize that something was “different”?

It’s hard for me to pin point an exact time in my life when I realized I was different. Very early in my life, since I was 2 years old, I was involved in schools with kids with hearing loss, and I was like everyone else. When I was 7 years old, in grade 1, I went to my neighborhood private school and that’s when I realized I was different from other kids. I wore an Implant, an FM system (to help me hear the teachers) and I needed extra help with my speech and language.

How did that make you feel?

Really, this didn’t matter to me in primary grade; but when I started in the intermediate school (grade 5) I became self-conscious and angry that I was deaf, and I felt different from everyone else.

What challenges do you face in dance?

My cochlear implant allows me to hear music pretty well, but my greatest challenge is that I need to concentrate on the musicality. I really need to focus on the counts and beats more than other dancers because I don’t hear the subtle tones, and it’s hard to catch it.

How do you overcome those challenges?

I listen to the music for my dance routines over and over on my iPod and YouTube on my own time, almost memorizing the songs and the beats. I love music, so this isn’t hard and fun for me to do.

Photo: Sarah has never let anything stop her from dancing. She says, "If it weren’t for my mother’s fighting spirit to get me a cochlear implant, I wouldn’t be part of the hearing world."

Who helped you and what advice did they give you?

I have lots of self-motivation to push myself and practice daily because I love dance. But mainly, my teachers at the dance studio give me extra time and help, giving me tips and encouraging me to do my best.

What skills have you developed while learning to dance with deafness?

With my cochlear implant, I really am dependent on hearing to live and dance. I am no longer the best lip reader, but I am a great watcher/observer of details all around me. I am really clued into watching the small details (body movements, head, finger, arm placement) when my teacher is demonstrating a new dance. I am really observant of the other dancers around me and I practice all the time. I think I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to dance. I do ask my dance teachers lots of questions when I can’t get a trick or movement.

What advice do you have for other dancers dealing with a similar circumstance?

"Whatever disability you have or if you love doing something, keep working hard, don’t give up, ask for help and one day, you’ll be good at it. Don’t let your disability or emotions stop you from what you love to do."

What is the best advice you've been given throughout your experiences?

The best advice I’ve been given was “keep on pushing.” I say this because if I stop working hard or if I can’t get over a “barrier,” I need to not give up on it because if I give up on it, I’m not going to improve and the “barrier” will win. I want to improve on my dancing and to inspire other people to keep on pushing through their daily challenges.

What is your favorite part of dance?

Learning new tricks, especially acrobatic tricks; It’s fun to put them into routines. I also like socializing with my friends at the studio. It makes dance more fun when you can just have a laugh and trustworthy relationships with them.

Why do you dance?

I dance because it’s helps me to release all my energy and stress. It makes me feel confident and I feel like the happiest girl in the world. I think I will never stop dancing.

If there is one thing you want the world to know about deafness, what would it be?

It’s not easy being deaf. I have a harder time socializing and conversing with people and it’s more of a challenge for me to dance with the music. But if I didn’t get the Cochlear Implant then I wouldn’t be part of the dancing world and I wouldn’t have discovered my dancing talents.

How have you grown as a person in regards to deafness and dancing?

I’ve grown in learning myself and learned what I can and cannot do with my deafness.

"Sometimes being part of dance has been frustration and I’ve learned to be persistent and to work hard to learn the dance routines. My deafness hasn’t stopped me from my passion."

A note from Sarah to you:

Even if people criticize you or your talent, don’t listen to them because you’re a wonderful person and you don’t deserve those bad words in your life.

Quick Facts:

Your favorite dance snack: Fruits

Your favorite barre exercise: Battement Tendu

Your favorite hobby (outside of dance): Jumping on Trampoline

Your life motto: Keep on Pushing!



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