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Sunday, December 21, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Behind the Scenes

Dancer Katharine Grimm

Seattle Times staff reporter

What she does: Katharine Grimm is a 9-year-old ballerina performing in the role of "small servant" in Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker." This is her first year in the production.

When she was 9 months old, pneumococcal meningitis left her with profound hearing loss.

She started dancing when she was 3 years old. She's taken classes at the PNB school for the past three years, and she also takes jazz dancing lessons.

How she got here: At age 2½, Katharine entered a local education program called Listen and Talk. The program relies on auditory-oral education, which emphasizes spoken communication rather than sign language (for more information, visit www.oraldeafed.org/schools/listentalk). After several years of intensive therapy at Listen and Talk, and with the help of a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other, Katharine is able to speak perfectly — and she's able to hear music.

"When she was 9 months old, they told me she was deaf, and I didn't know what to expect," her mom, Karin Grimm, said. "Now I'm watching her on the stage. It's absolutely amazing that she has come this far."

Does she ever get nervous onstage?: "No," Katharine said. "I'm used to it." Besides, "I can't see any of the people out in the audience."

What she likes: Katharine is a third grader at Our Lady of Fatima school, where she enjoys P.E. and math but is less enthusiastic about social studies.

Like most kids her age, she can be a little bashful when asked to talk about herself.

In her room, she has posters of the University of Washington women's basketball team and Britney Spears. She also likes Kelly Clarkson and Hilary Duff. She enjoys playing board games with friends, and her favorite food is cheese pizza. She has three older brothers (Jeff, 13; Robbie, 17; and Matt, 20) and a dog named Maggie.

A busy schedule: During the holiday season this year, Katharine has dance lessons or performances six days a week. Wednesday is her only day off.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the Grimms were preparing to decorate their Christmas tree. Three bouquets of flowers — given to Katharine after a "Nutcracker" performance sat on the dining-room table at the family's Magnolia home. One bouquet was from her grandmother. The other two were from Star Leonard-Fleckman and Maura Berndsen. Leonard-Fleckman is the founding director of Listen and Talk; Berndsen is the program's educational director.

"This was a little girl that, if you turned on the video camera, she would be hiding behind her mom and not really wanting to be in the spotlight," said Berndsen, who had been Katharine's preschool teacher.

Katharine's progress is a good example of what is possible with auditory-oral education, Berndsen said, although she noted that such a program may not be appropriate for every hearing-impaired child.

"She's just an amazing girl," Berndsen said. "She's definitely achieved a high level."

Nuts and bolts: There are 90 roles for kids in PNB's "Nutcracker." About 350 auditioned in September; about 220 were selected.

The role of "small servant" is split into two casts of nine that perform in half of the 36 performances, which began the day after Thanksgiving and run until Dec. 28. The servants appear at the beginning of Act II, when Clara and the prince arrive at the Pasha's kingdom.

Anne Dabrowski, a ballet master with PNB, who performed in the "Nutcracker" when she was a child, said small servants must be organized and poised.

Like many who meet Katharine, Dabrowski was unaware of the degree of her hearing loss.

"I never knew until a couple of days ago that she was that hearing impaired," Dabrowski said. "I knew that she had a hearing aid, but I had no idea."

"She certainly did well in the audition," Dabrowski added. "She's a delightful child — a very talented little dancer."

Jesse Tarbert: 206-464-2540 or jtarbert@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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