In 2001, having left an evening of salsa dancing early, I was reminded that something was wrong. A guy that I’d danced with on numerous occasions and actually got on very well with told me I’d had too much to drink and ended our dance before the song finished. I wasn’t really a drinker and I’d only had water that evening. I decided to call it a night and limped to my car. Sitting in the driver’s seat I realised that I couldn’t drive as I couldn’t feel my right leg properly, or come to think of it, my right arm. This had happened before when everyone thought it was Carpal Tunnel Syndrome because I worked on a computer every day.
Having numbness down one side of my body resulted in an urgent referral to a neurologist. The night before picking up my results I did a google search of my symptoms. I’d never heard of Multiple Sclerosis but the Neurologist agreed with google and said it was a possibility.
I needed to live life while I could. I continued dancing and travelled as much as possible.
Fast forward to 2004, I woke up one morning unable to see properly out of one eye. I had Optic Neuritis and could finally get a diagnosis of MS. Fortunately my sight returned after 6 weeks and I continued to dance when I could. Salsa in Zurich, Valencia, New York, Cancun – wherever there was a salsa club. Regular classes kept me mobile and feeling positive. I really loved dancing.
Alas after a fairly ordinary morning in 2008, I had to hang up my dancing shoes – or so I thought. A massive MS relapse put me in hospital for 10 weeks. I remember my youngest niece saying to me “but Aunty you don’t take drugs so why are you in rehab?”
I was paralysed from chest down and had to learn to do everything again; who knew making a cup of tea was so difficult? By the time I left the Neurological Rehab Unit fortunately most of the paralysis had subsided; I was walking with an elbow crutch and using a wheelchair for longer distances. A stress fracture in my right foot, due to the way I now walk pushed my return to dancing even further away. Even though the fracture finally healed after more than a year, I’m still in pain and can’t stand for long.
When I received the Lewisham MS Society newsletter detailing Step Change Studios and their upcoming classes, I was over the moon. All I needed to do was sort out childcare and I was good to go. But who else was going to come with me? I have 3 friends with MS who use wheelchairs: one was busy, one had had a fall so wasn’t up to it, the other didn’t reply to my message. Could I go on my own? I’d voluntary work in Kenya and Ghana on my own in 2007, surely I could do this. Couldn’t I?
hadn’t been able to sort out childcare and so I decided to bring my 7 year old, her cousin who was playing at our home and her mother, my niece, with me.
Wow – a 50:50 mix of wheelchair dancers and those without. Cool! A little warm-up and then we were off. I’m not a regular wheelchair user and get fatigued quite easily, so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up. It was fine. Nuno and Rashmi are on hand to help and answer any questions. I also needed to ask one of the other wheelchair dancers how he was managing to turn his chair using just one hand. The hour flew by. What a great afternoon. We left on a high.
The all-inclusive dance class that Step Change Studios is running is perfect. It’s good exercise, great fun, a lovely way to socialise and most importantly, I’m back on the dance floor! You don’t need any previous experience – even my 7 year old now loves to spin me around in my wheelchair having watched the last 2 classes.
Step Change Studios is a pioneering dance company committed to making Latin and Ballroom dance accessible for everyone. They offer fun, engaging opportunities for Disabled and non-Disabled people to dance. They cater to all ages, abilities and needs. Step Change provide weekly classes in London; deliver dance in schools, colleges, social care, healthcare and community settings; and create imaginative bespoke dance projects. Their goal is to support everyone to achieve their dancing ambitions – whether that is to dance for fun, to be active, to perform or compete.