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Tianjiao (Jiaojiao) Zhang

“Dancing makes me happy, and I want to pass this on”

Even as a little girl, Tianjiao (Jiaojiao) Zhang knew she wanted to become a dancer, despite her profound hearing loss.She has been supported in this endeavour by hearing aids from Sonova brand Phonak. Now a young woman, she is making her dream come true – since 2019, she has been offering ballet tuition to girls with and without hearing lossin her own workshop series in Shanghai.

It is a rainy afternoon in Shanghai in September, 2019. Girls with outstretched legs and ramrod-straight backs are sitting on the floor of a dance studio whose rear wall is covered with large mirrors. Tianjiao (nicknamed “Jiaojiao”) Zhang is gently correcting their posture. “Shoulders further back, and point the tips of your toes forwards.” The little course participants duly stand up, raise their arms above their heads, arch their legs or lean gracefully to one side. These are routine exercises at a ballet school, but there is something special about these lessons in downtown Shanghai: Jiaojiao has become a successful young dancer even though she has had profound hearing loss since birth. The lesson is the first of a series of dance workshops that Jiaojiao has since continued.

Even as a child, this young woman from Harbin in the far north of China had known that dancing was the only career for her – despite her profound hearing loss. Here, she had help from her mother, Wei Liu, who had her daughter fitted with her first hearing aid as soon as possible. Little Jiaojiao learned to dance, hear and speak all at the same time. 

Even as a teenager, she was winning prizes at national and international competitions. Jiaojiao went on to study dance at a prestigious academy in Beijing and now works as a freelance dancer with a number of different ensembles. 

She wears Phonak Naída™ hearing aids and can easily make herself understood; her devices also allow the 23-year-old to hear and enjoy music. The young dancer always wears them “in her heart”, as she puts it. “We can understand Jiaojiao just as well as any of the other teachers,” says nine-year-old Xiaobei Li, who loves dancing and also does drama at her school. Seven-year-old Yanyan Cao is also taking part in the workshop; Jianmei Lu, her mother, found out about the “Tianjiao Dance Studio” from a chat group for parents of children with hearing loss and immediately signed her up. Yanyan is a bundle of energy and is still racing round the room after the lesson is over. Just like Jiaojiao, she wears hearing aids from Sonova brand Phonak, and these allow her to go to a normal school in the neighbourhood.

All the girls enjoy the lesson, as Jiaojiao mixes occasional flashes of pedagogic rigour with a cheerful manner and laughs a lot. There is a short bout of silliness after the exhausting stretching exercises, with all the girls pulling faces, and then they are asked to show how high they can leap. Everyone in the lesson makes an effort and tries their best. Jiaojiao is very happy with their performance and explains what motivates her to hold the lessons: “Dancing makes me happy, and I would like to pass this on.” It has always been her dream to bring children with and without hearing loss together to share the joy of dancing and to show them all that can be achieved despite hearing loss. Sonova has been helping Jiaojiao make this dream come true by providing financial support for the workshops since 2019.