Ricky Smith entered the Woodland Park Elementary gym Thursday afternoon, took his spot in front of the students, waved "hello," and then ... he spotted something.
It was a ball.
He promptly picked it up, tossed it to himself a few times and then began to bring students up to play catch.
Laughter erupted throughout the gym as his performance — complete with jumping rope and even lassoing a teacher — continued, and it was evident that Smith was forming a connection with the students.
No props and no words were needed. All Smith used was body language, which happens to be his specialty.
That's because Smith is a deaf mime.
Thanks to a grant, he traveled to Norfolk Public Schools' elementaries and Christ Lutheran Elementary throughout Thursday as a way to celebrate Deaf Awareness Week, which is the last week in September.
"It's just great to bring awareness. Some schools aren't as used to it as Woodland Park is because it's not there every day," Tonya Carriker said.
Carriker is a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing at Woodland Park, which houses the Norfolk school district’s Deaf Education Center Based Program.
She wanted to bring Smith — who is based out of Omaha — to Norfolk not only to raise awareness, but also just because he's a great performer.
"They loved it. There was not a solemn face," she said. "I guess you could say there were smiles all around and hugs no matter where you went."
Smith received plenty of hugs — and high fives — as students exited the gym. To him, that's really what makes what he does worth it.
Smith, who grew up in New York, was first exposed to miming at the New York State World's Fair as a 12 year old.
"I said to my mom, 'Is he a clown?' " Smith said through a translator. "She said, 'No, he's a mime. He's using his body language to communicate. He doesn't need words.' And I thought, 'Oh, that's like me.' "
Prior to this, Smith was frustrated with his difficulty in communicating, so this encouraged him to start thinking about acting and miming.
He's been a professional mime since the late 1970s, studying with the famous French mime, Marcel Marceau, in Paris and performing and teaching for all ages throughout Europe and the United States.
During Thursday's presentation, students had the chance to pick up a little sign language, including the sign for clapping and the sign for thank you.
But in the end, while speaking different languages, Smith and the students had an understanding.
"Without words and without voice we can communicate with body language and they understand that," Smith said. "We involve each other in our languages and it's more difficult to communicate that way, but it's good to share that. ... Sometimes it seems strange to communicate that way, but in the end we get it figured out and it's like we're speaking the same language."