Audrey's strictly a star
Audrey (6) has fallen in love with ballroom dancing and recently competed in Blackpool.
Sitting in the audience in the Winter Gardens Blackpool, Tracey and Andrew couldn’t believe they were watching their little girl competing in a national dance competition. “I felt pride beyond belief,” Tracey says. “She had overcome so much to get there, things parents of hearing children could never understand.”
Audrey was diagnosed as moderately deaf at two weeks old. “We were seen later by audiology and they ran all of their tests during a five-hour appointment,” Tracey explains. “It was very stressful and emotional.”
Audrey was fitted with hearing aids at six weeks but, with no history of deafness in her family, Tracey was devastated. “That was the most awful time because I wasn’t aware of a single other child who wore hearing aids,” Tracey says. “I thought all of the worst things. I’d imagined ballet and piano lessons for Audrey and in that moment it felt like that was no longer possible.”
Tracey and Andrew then went to one of our newly diagnosed weekends. “That was brilliant,” Tracey says. “The other parents were versions of you so you felt safe to express yourself. I could say how Audrey’s diagnosis had made me feel without any shame. It was a turning point.”
When Tracey and Andrew were looking for schools for Audrey’s older brother Harry (9) they were thinking about finding a school that would work for Audrey too. “Our Teacher of the Deaf came and looked at schools with us and assessed the acoustics,” Tracey says. “In the school we chose, the classroom was open-plan but the school put a door up especially for Audrey. You can’t really ask for more than that!”
Audrey loves school but is happiest being creative and her real passion is dancing. “I’m a big Strictly Come Dancing fan,” Tracey says. “Two years ago when she was four, Audrey was up late one night and she was captivated by the show.
“I felt pride beyond belief.”
“She was dancing around the lounge and asking her dad to lift her up like the dancers. We’ve got a local ballroom dancing school so I enquired and in the January term Audrey started there.”
When Audrey joined, Tracey spoke to the teacher about her hearing loss and explained that she’d need to see the teacher’s face when the music was on. “Audrey’s main communication is speech but when she’s in an environment where the hearing aids take on a louder sound, for example dancing with loud music, she relies on lip-reading,” Tracey explains. “She’s also quite led by people’s body language so it’s important to communicate her needs.
“They once had a new teacher at her dance school and Audrey came home saying she was struggling to hear him. I went in and explained that sometimes he turned his back to Audrey, so now he makes sure he bobs down to her level so she can always see his face. The staff there are brilliant.”
Audrey loves her dance classes but Tracey realises what she’s overcoming every time she attends. “For her to get up on that dance floor and not be able to hear her dance teacher’s voice over the music is a challenge that other children don’t face and yet she takes it in her stride.”
Audrey’s also made new friends through dancing. “We’ve bought some books with deaf characters in, like Freddie and the Fairy, which we read with her,” Tracey says. “They’ve taught her how to tell other people that she’s struggling and now she’s very confident to tell anyone what she needs them to do. She’ll say, ‘Don’t put your hand over your face’ or ‘Make sure you’re looking at me.’”
Audrey hasn’t let anything hold her back and in two short years has achieved a lot in the dancing world. She’s already taken exams in Latin dancing and ballroom dancing and passed with honours. “In her first year she was in the Christmas and summer shows,” Tracey says. “Then her dance school said they were going to be doing competitions. My husband and I weren’t sure about it but Audrey asked to do it so we thought we’d give it a go.
“Audrey’s very confident to tell anyone what she needs them to do.”
“Last year she went to Gillingham for her first dance competition. We went with no expectation whatsoever but at that competition she qualified to compete in Blackpool at the UK National Finals. We couldn’t believe it!”
Between then and the finals, Audrey competed in a number of other competitions to get used to the environment. “She’s got a lovely little dance partner called Violet,” Tracey says. “They are doing phenomenally well in their pairs competitions.” When it came to the big weekend in Blackpool, the family decided to make the trip and enjoy a weekend away. “It took us nearly nine hours to get there but we took Harry and our mums with us and we saw the Illuminations which was incredible,” says Tracey.
“Audrey competed on the Saturday and it was mind-blowing; she got into the quarter-finals in one discipline and the semi-finals in another. It was very emotional; I was in tears in the audience.
“I want this positive message to go out to any other parent; maybe they’ve just found out their child is deaf and are feeling devastated like us. It’s not as bad as you’re thinking right now. For my husband and I to stand and watch Audrey compete in Blackpool – never in a million years would we have thought that was possible. I’m so proud of her.”