May 2019 Knoxville News Sentinel

MARVA ting! from the cymbals, the click-clack of her partner's step, sharp brass tones and the thrum-bmm-bmm of the rhythm bass: Laurie Pullins took no sound for granted as she rehearsed her foxtrot dance performance for the Let's Dance Spring Show.  Pullins, 62, of Maryville, was born with hearing loss that made her feel isolated through much of her early life.  "When I was young I was ridiculed and made fun of for talking funny," Pullins said, adding that she was often called snobby for not turning around when people tried to speak with her. 

After using hearing aids for many years, her audiologist informed her that they could no longer provide relief. So she decided to get cochlear implants. She received her first implant in 2005.  The first thing she noticed was the hum of the fan in the doctor's office. "I remember asking, 'What's that noise?' " Pullins recalled. "I'd never heard a fan before."  She got her second implant two years later.

Laurie Pullin s

Laurie Pullins practices with her instructor Cole Lonker at Let's Dance Ballroom Dance Studio in Maryville , Tennessee

 Now the background noises are some of her favourites. "Birds chirping, clocks ticking — all these sounds I think people take for granted fascinate me.” But her grandchildren's voices top her list, she said. 

After some time in therapy relearning how to hear with what she calls her "new ears," she discovered a passion for dance.  "Music has become almost multidimensional for me, with the variations of the different instruments and voices," Pullins said. "It is more than just pretty noise to me now. I'm experiencing this brand-new world."  At a recent rehearsal, she wore a black flapper-style dress with long fringe that twirled as she turned. She rarely missed a beat, passing her glitzy fedora back and forth with her partner, Cole Lonker, throughout the routine.  "She's a go-getter," Let's Dance owner Chris Rose said as he looked on. "She's one of our best students and certainly our longest-running student."

Pullins started dancing in 2011 with her husband, Steven. She was the first student at the studio to enter a competition, and she's won many since. In fact, Pullins has now lost count of her dance awards. "She's able to follow extremely well," Rose said. "For years, Laurie had to read lips and mimic body language, and that natural mimicry really shows in the way she dances with her partners.” Pullins said: "Dance to me is another form of sign language because I have to depend on my partner to give me signals, and I just follow." 

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