Mime tells silent tales at Bordewich-Bray

After bouncing a ball for the students, Ricky Smith began to toss a few to the audience members seated on the floor of the library at Bordewich-Bray Elementary School.

As he tossed balls randomly, other students raised their hands in anticipation of also receiving a ball. Smith surveyed the students, then threw a basket-full of balls into the crowd.

Each student caught a ball - none fell to the floor, and nothing was knocked off the surrounding shelves.

Unbelievable? Not when the balls are make-believe.

Smith, who was born deaf, has dedicated his life to learning the art of mime and sharing it with people of all ages. He spent the day Monday teaching Bordewich-Bray students that not all communication is verbal.

"The world has many different languages, but mime is the same," Smith said through Bordewich-Bray interpreter Bruce Magner. "All ages and cultures come together through mime, even the blind through touching and feeling."

Not once speaking out loud, Smith led the students through various activities.

It wasn't a show to see students perform but to watch students learn. It was like watching an episode of "Wheel of Fortune" when the contestant is short the one letter needed to solve the puzzle.

Students watched in anxious frustration as classmates tried to interpret the mime's signals. Then came the moment when the student understood, and laughter erupted as the the skit played itself out.

"He was so excellent. It looked so real," said Ryan Combs, 10. "Everyone knew what to do because of the way he moved."

Mario Mendoza, 11, was called up to act out an encounter with another student.

The mime, through movement, instructed the two to walk toward one another, shake hands, wave, then walk away.

"I think it's cool because it shows that everybody's different in their own way," Mario said. "If you can't hear, sign language is good because you can talk to your friends."

Mario, along with other students at the school, is a member of the sign language club to help the hearing students communicate with the eight hearing disabled students.

"We have people in our classroom that can't hear," said Jeremy Shaw, 11. "Knowing sign language helped me when I was partners with people who couldn't hear."

Smith reserved his final presentation of the day for the hearing impaired throughout the district.

"I like him," said Jonathan Joseph, 13, from Eagle Valley Middle School."He makes jokes with everybody."

Nena Stucki, a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing, said it was fascinating to watch the command he held over the entire student population but that it was extra special with the hearing impaired.

"They're able to put more ownership than the hearing kids," she said. "They're on the same wavelength."

Smith was born deaf to hearing parents. He could not communicate until he learned American Sign Language when he was 15.

He started to learn mime at the age of 12 and later studied under Marcel Marceau, a famous mime, in Paris. He is fluent in French and Japanese sign language.

He is now married to a hearing wife and they have two hearing children.

"These kids don't get an opportunity to see very many deaf role models," said Lois Furno, a hearing impaired specialist. "It's great that he is so successful and so interested in sharing it with the students."

Smith performed for 13 of the district's nearly 25 hearing impaired students.

What looked like a game of charades to outsiders was a well-told story or a carefully-planned joke to the students involved. They laughed, they asked questions they learned about communication.


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