If you see April Lanka dancing in her first ballet recital this week, you probably won't notice any difference between her and the other 4-year-olds on stage.
Look closely: Peaking out from behind April's ears are hearing aids, and attached to her instructor's head is a boom microphone like the one Britney Spears wears.
Without these high-tech gadgets and the willingness of her instructors to use them, April might not be dancing this week. She was born severely deaf in one ear, profoundly deaf in the other, but like so many girls, she dreamed of being a ballerina.
“Why shouldn't she?” asks Charity Sayre, owner of Shuffles and Chainés dance studio in Mooresville. “Just because a child has a problem hearing, or a problem seeing, or even walking, that should not limit them being a princess.”
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Since February, Sayre and assistant Joy Stokely have worn a headset attached to an FM transmitter as they teach the steps and words to “Chu-Chi Face,” a song from the 1968 movie “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang,” which the girls will dance to at the recital.
“Smile big like it's the day of the show,” Miss Charity says.
All the girls smile.
“Are your tummies zipped up?”
The girls stand up straight.
“Lift your chins up high so all of the audience can see your beautiful faces.”
Without the microphone, which feeds into a receiver in her hearing aids, April could not hear Miss Charity's instructions unless they were within three feet of each other.
“It's a small intervention that doesn't interfere with anybody else,” said April's mother, Anne Lanka. “For April, it's her whole world.”
Lanka wears the headset every day, and April's kindergarten teacher at Woodland Heights Elementary School will wear one, too.
April does so well despite her hearing loss, Lanka said, because of North Carolina's early diagnosis and intervention program for children who are deaf or have hearing loss. North Carolina is one of 38 states that perform hearing screening in hospitals shortly after birth.
A teacher of the deaf started coming to April's house when she was 21/2 months old. After April learned to walk, her parents began wearing the FM transmitter so she could hear them from across the room.
“Anything we can do to let the general public know that there's this critical window from zero to 3 years,” Lanka said. “The clock is ticking for brain development.”
Because of the early intervention, when April talks she sounds like other 4-year-olds.
When she's in school, she hears the teacher the same as her classmates do.
And when she dances on stage Tuesday night, she'll look like all the other ballerinas.