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Student Spotlight: Giuliana Siraguso of Priscilla and Dana’s School of Dance

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The accident happened on a rainy football field. With one wrong step, high school pom dancer Giuliana Siraguso tore her ACL, MCL, LCL, and meniscus. With such a sweeping knee injury, doctors told her she might never dance again.

She didn’t believe them. “Doctors told me I couldn’t dance and be deaf,” she says. “I didn’t listen to them the first time, so why would I listen to them now?”

Giuliana, who is indeed almost completely deaf, locked her leg in an ankle-to-hip brace, did daily physical therapy plus at-home exercises, and rehabbed for a year. When she rejoined her competitive teammates at Priscilla and Dana’s School of Dance in North Kansas City, Missouri, Giuliana was right back where she had been—powering through technical, high-point-scoring routines, pursuing professional dance opportunities, and serving as a role model for the studio’s younger set.

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“Dana taught us to push through and not give up when you really want something,” Giuliana, 15, says, mentioning how her studio director found a way to hold classes after the studio roof collapsed under heavy snow or during COVID. “The injury was just another obstacle to push through to get back to being the dancer I want to be.”

Studio owner Dana McGuire says Giuliana’s immediate injury reaction—“Dad, I have to dance half-time”—sums up her student. “She’s confident and resilient and doesn’t take no for an answer,” Dana says. “She doesn’t think any task is too big because she’s always had to work hard.”

That hard work started at birth. Born with auditory dissequency and neurological hearing loss—basically, the nerves attaching the brain to the ear are frayed—Giuliana is 95 percent deaf in one ear and 97 percent in the other. Her mother Carol Jo Scola-Siraguso says when the other neighborhood kids started joining dance, she wanted to register her daughter as well. After two studios turned them down, Carol finally found Dana’s, where she says her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter “fell in love and refused to leave.”

Dana remembers Carol saying, “Just to let you know, she’s deaf,” and suggesting Dana look at Giuliana when speaking. “She wasn’t asking for anything special,” Dana says. “I started teaching by looking her in the eyes, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Although she wears hearing aids (toupée tape prevents them from flying out of her ears when she turns), Giuliana describes what she can hear as “in between radio stations.” She stays on the music by feeling the back beat vibrations through the floor, studying the lyrics (which she can’t hear) at home. She’s a master lip reader, but in rehearsal must learn choreography while watching the demonstrating teacher’s lips reflected in the mirror.

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She does such a good job that, at dance competition, Carol has heard not-so-whispered doubts about her title-holding daughter’s deafness. “Yeah, well, cover your mouth and talk to her,” Carol says. “We never treat her like she has a disability. If you live in a world where people are not deaf you have to rise to the occasion.”

Many deaf persons grow up in multigenerational deaf families, but Giuliana is the solo deaf person in hers. When doctors told Carol that clear speech would be an impossibility, she enrolled Giuliana in a school for the deaf (to learn to read lips, body language, Braille, and sign) as well as a regular academic school, and explored three options for speech therapy.

Today, Giuliana’s speech is clear, the same as any person with typical hearing. She’s a wonderful turner with great balance—another skill that has shocked the doctors. As might be expected, tap isn’t her favorite genre—but she still achieves high scores. Last year’s pandemic, when everyone was in masks, was just another obstacle to crush.

And boy, is she crushing it: she’s the soulful soloist in a Shawn Mendes video, the energetic spitfire lip synching to Kelly Clarkson on Nickelodeon’s LipSync Battle Shorties, the petite pretzel posing with New York City strangers during a Jordan Matter 10 Minute Photo Challenge video (which has logged 4.6-plus million views since 2018).

Recently she played a character based on herself in Sound Off, a 2021 movie short written by filmmaker and former Kansas City TV news host Michelle Davidson Bratcher. In it, Giuliana’s character helps a young dancer who suddenly goes deaf.

With every achievement, Giuliana’s helping people see what’s possible—rather than impossible—for a person with a disability. “I’m able to do something that I love and want to do,” she says. “You just might have to take a different path to follow your dreams.”

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