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Dance department’s first deaf student ‘feels music’

Carissa+Homme+says+even+when+the+battery+in+her+cochlear+implant+dies%2C+she+can+still+dance+by+counting+the+tempo.+
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Dance department’s first deaf student ‘feels music’

Carissa Homme says even when the battery in her cochlear implant dies, she can still dance by counting the tempo.

Carissa Homme says even when the battery in her cochlear implant dies, she can still dance by counting the tempo.

Haley Liddell | Daily 49er

Carissa Homme says even when the battery in her cochlear implant dies, she can still dance by counting the tempo.

Haley Liddell | Daily 49er

Haley Liddell | Daily 49er

Carissa Homme says even when the battery in her cochlear implant dies, she can still dance by counting the tempo.

Megan Clancy, Contributing Writer

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Carissa Homme’s favorite part about dancing is warming up at the barre.

“That’s where I hear and feel the music,” Homme said. “When I hear and feel it, I can feel how to move my body to the music.”

Homme, a 23-year-old Ohio native, is the first deaf student to be admitted into Cal State Long Beach’s dance department, according to Faith Fontan, Coordinator of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired Support Services.

Homme moved to California at the age of 2 to attend the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles, where she learned how to speak. She got a cochlear implant, a sophisticated electronic hearing device, at the age of 4 to help her hear spoken language. Since the age of 18, Homme has taught older siblings how to communicate with their deaf siblings at the John Tracy Clinic every summer.

“Interestingly, I find that Carissa is perhaps more musical in my [dance] technique classes than many of the students who are not hearing impaired,” Lorin Johnson, assistant professor of dance said.

She has a sign language interpreter who helps her understand what’s going on when she can’t read lips, such as when the teacher turns her back to her.

“Many times my battery dies so I can’t hear the music,” Homme said. “When my battery dies, I just count the tempo, and watch the teacher’s demonstrations and I follow her. I memorize the tempo, so being unable to hear does not affect my dancing.”

Homme attended years of ballet school and three-hour rounds of rigorous auditions for two years before she got selected.

“I was scared and nervous because I knew the judges were judging my technique and I wanted to impress them,” Homme said.

The audition contained two parts: Ballet and modern.

Homme didn’t make it during her first audition as a freshman because the committee said her modern dance skills were not up to par.

Johnson said the department picks 20 to 30 students, or less, out of 60 applicants.

Not willing to give up, Homme took academic classes along with more dance classes before attending the second audition.

“I was exhausted and starving, but I felt good,” she said. “I was surprised when I got the acceptance letter from the dance department.”

Homme is only five feet tall and maintains a rigorous diet while dancing five days a week. She tries to eat healthy but indulges every now and then.

“Just orange juice with bread for breakfast … maybe a sandwich for lunch … but I love ice cream!” Homme said. “I’m learning how to cook and I eat asparagus wrapped in bacon.”

From Monday through Friday, she juggles academic courses, dance classes and rehearsals.

Her future goal, since she was 5, is to become a professional ballet dancer or to start her own dance school for deaf kids.

“I want to perform anywhere where I can get a job, like at Disneyland, dance companies or teaching dance classes,” Homme said.

Homme is determined to follow her dance dreams, despite negative criticism.

“My friend said, ‘You can’t dance because you can’t hear,’ but I said, ‘What are you talking about? I can dance even without my cochlear implant on!'” she said.

Homme will perform on Oct. 13, 14 and 15 at the fall 2011 MFA Dance Concert: Slipping Between Here and There.


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