Good posture, balance, co-ordination, flexibility, strength and stage-presence are among the skills needed to be a successful ballet dancer.
So is the ability to listen, feel and keep time with the music.
17-year-old Thomas McClintock is a talented dancer, but not all of the skills required come naturally to him.
Tom started attending ballet classes when he was 4-years-old and his mum says his gift on the dance floor was “apparent pretty much straight away”.
It’s his ability to hear that didn’t come naturally to him – Tom has born profoundly deaf in both ears.
His parents, Suzanne Smith and Bruce McClintock, made the decision to get him two cochlear implants, and ensured that he came to The Hearing House for therapy.
As a result of their decision, he can hear music, feel the music and keep time. And thanks to his hard work and dedication he is now a student at the prestigious Australian Ballet School in Melbourne.
The other attribute that has put Tom in good stead is his determination – throughout his childhood years he learnt to juggle school, dancing and homework with playing the piano and saxophone, learning French, swimming and playing hockey and tennis.
Tom got his first implant in 2000 when he was 9 months old and at the time he was the youngest in the country to have the surgery. He got his second implant when he was 4 years old.
His parents already had experience with a deaf baby as Tom’s older sister Alexandra was also born deaf and has cochlear implants.
After the initial switch on, all of Tom’s audiology was managed through The Hearing House, and he did most of his therapy with speech therapist Ann McElwee.
He found school easier when teachers wore a microphone to help him hear more directly, but says the greatest challenge was keeping his devices, and related equipment, on and safe.
Tom made fantastic progress with his listening and speaking. His audiologist noted at his 10-year-switch on review that “if it were not for the hardware, you would not know that this was a congenitally deaf child”.
“HIS SPEECH PRODUCTION, SPEECH RECEPTION, SOCIAL PERFORMANCE IS AS ‘NORMAL’ AS ANY OTHER YOUNG MAN OF HIS AGE, AND HIS ACHIEVEMENTS ACADEMICALLY AND IN DANCE ARE SIGNIFICANTLY GREATER THAN ‘NORMAL’.”
Tom loves to dance and what began as an all-consuming hobby has turned into a potential career.
“It’s the feeling. It’s different to so many other things. You use your body to demonstrate a story and to show your love and joy and different emotions. It’s very liberating.”
He became interested in dancing after sitting in on his sister’s ballet lessons at the Mt Eden Ballet Academy. He started lessons as a four-year-old and by the time he was 6 he was taking part in competitions.
In 2010 he went to summer school classes at the Australian Ballet School and the following year, when he was 11, he entered a competition that was open to Australian and New Zealand children. He competed in the junior section against 13-year-old boys and girls and won.
“It was a bit of a shock,” he says. “I didn’t expect to win.”
As a result of this win he was offered a full-time place at the Australian Ballet School from 2014.
Tom moved to Melbourne as a 14-year-old and stayed with families who also had dancers at the school. He now lives in the school’s hostel and says the demands of combining dance with education are intense.
“It’s not for the faint-hearted.”
School runs from 8.30am till 5pm, or later, and there is a half day class on the weekend.
The ballet school includes classes in English, psychology, drama, choreography and music, and he is also in his second year of studying NCEA level 3 over two years via correspondence.
Tom will have finished at ballet school by the end of 2018 and is spending the next two years considering his options for the future.
He might be offered a place with The Australian Ballet company or he could audition for ballet companies around the world.
Another option he is considering is studying medicine with the goal of becoming a surgeon or getting into sports medicine.
Tom says his greatest challenge as a ballet dancer who has cochlear implants, is that the devices sometimes come off while he is dancing.
“I have to remember to tighten the magnets otherwise they come flying off on stage.”
Tom says having cochlear implants has not impeded his life.
“It’s not an obstacle at all. I’ve come quite a long way and I’m definitely where I want to be. I’m definitely quite proud of what I’ve done.”
He says children with cochlear implants should “do as much as you can”.
“Don’t let these [cochlear implants] stop you.”