Eve Chalom - Skater/Choreographer - March 1st - My Dance with Deafness

Eve Chalom is a two-time world competitor in ice dancing. She is currently a dance/movement therapist, a performer in both ice skating and modern dance, a yogi, and a figure skating coach. She was hit by a car when she was four years old and has worn two hearing aids ever since.

There is something transcendent about movement and being on the ice. It lifts you up beyond any physical worries and insecurities. The feeling of flow moves you beyond yourself. When I began skating at the age of eight, I loved it because when I skated, I felt that I was the same as everyone else. I didn’t feel that I was less of a person because of my hearing loss. I could skate just as well as anybody! Because it came easily to me, unlike many other areas of my life, it was my saving grace. The ice rink gave me a space where I felt free and felt that I could be myself, and I was happier there than anywhere else. I still am.

Not a day goes by when I am not grateful to skating for how much it has given me and how much I love to do it. I realized recently that I was teaching and/or skating seven days a week without even knowing it. Growing up hard of hearing, there really is no way to “even the playing field.” A child with a hearing loss is always going to struggle in places where other people don’t have to. Even though I was gifted at skating and it came naturally to me, I still had to compensate tremendously in other ways in order to keep up with other skaters. As an ice dancer who was on the solo ice dance circuit for a few years before I began dancing with my partner Mathew Gates, I was responsible for being on time with the music when I competed compulsory dances. In practice, I unconsciously memorized all the pieces of music that existed for whatever dance I was working on. I was familiar with my sound system at my home rink, and I was generally able to hear the beat of the music. But when I went to other rinks, I was often thrown off. There were moments when the beat would become unclear or I wouldn’t be able to hear it at all. By memorizing the melodies of all the dances, I was able to sing to myself. I would catch one beat and then become my own metronome, singing the melody to myself and straining for the next time I heard the beat again to confirm that I was still on time. Many years later, as a coach, I still know all the melodies to all the compulsory dances. When skating through a dance with a student, I often hum or sing the melody of one of the tracks. I think my strategy helped me develop a better understanding of rhythm.

Whenever you have something about you that’s a disability or a weakness, coming up with strategies that work to help you succeed are always a benefit because you end up developing other strengths. With a hearing loss, verbal communication was always hit or miss for me, so I became an expert at non-verbal communication. Hearing aid technology has changed a lot in the last twenty years, so I can actually hear normal conversation quite well now. But from when I was four years old until I was sixteen (when semi-digital hearing aids came out), conversation required a lot of guesswork and fill in the blanks. I read body language. I lip read and, to help round out my general knowledge, I read a lot of books about people and what people talk about. My emphasis on non-verbal communication actually helped my skating career, because I became a very visual learner and was able to imitate my coaches very easily. My ice-dance coaches in the beginning were Jeffrey Benz, Carol Fox, and Gorsha Sur. They were good coaches to imitate, as they were still skating themselves. For the bulk of my competitive career, my main coaches were Igor Shpilband and Elizabeth Coates. All of my coaches were always very patient with my hearing loss. On the ice, I was good at making sure I knew what the corrections were and what to do, even if it meant asking several times for them to repeat themselves. Having a hearing loss definitely takes self-assertion, and I was very motivated because I wanted to be the best skater I could be. In the other aspects of my life, I found it more difficult to be as assertive, because I didn’t know how to handle people who were impatient with me when I didn’t hear them. I also often ended up in many situations where people didn’t realize that I had a hearing loss because I didn’t tell them, and they assumed that I must be slow.

It has taken me a long time to discover how to be more assertive as a hard of hearing person in a world where most people can hear normally. I also have had to work a lot on my listening skills. I was very lucky to decide to get a master’s degree in dance/movement therapy (which I just finished last summer), and, in addition to changing my life and my skating in major ways, I also learned how to better listen to my own body. It took time for me to slow down enough to realize that my body had the ability to communicate to me by way of feelings, sensations, and an intuitive sense. Being able to register when there is tension in my body has taken me a long way towards being able to comfortably listen to others, both in verbal and non-verbal communication. When I am relaxed, I can listen better.

The improved ability to listen to myself and others has also helped me a lot in skating, whether it comes to feeling how tight I can take an edge, or understanding someone else’s rhythm when we are partnering. The assertiveness I had on the ice is now coming into the rest of my life, and I find that I am more able to ask for help or find ways to modify my situation so that I am able to hear more comfortably; at the same time, I also focus on relaxing so I can hear better. Being aware of my own strategies has made me much more understanding of other people and their particular situations and able to notice when their strategies are working or not. A lot of people have different ways of understanding their own limitations, and learning how to work with these limitations is part of a growth towards maturity.

I am grateful to skating because it gave me a place where I was able to feel whole. It is the ultimate satisfaction to bring the lessons I learned and feelings of freedom to be myself on the ice into the rest of my life.