South Surrey’s Dawn O’ Kane may not be physically able to dance as was once second-nature to her.
But the former Canadian ballroom dance champion, diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis 18 years ago, still knows how to move – and to teach.
And O’Kane, who also used to own the Peninsula’s Arthur Murray Dance Studio, is convinced that her background in dance, and her experiences with MS, have made her the ideal person to tailor a dance-exercise program to the individual needs of the disabled.
“I’ve done yoga and pilates and training for dancing my whole life,” she said.
“Whatever our range of mobility, it’s important – for all of us – that we keep moving,” she added, noting that while everyone’s needs are different, each case can present its own individual opportunities for improvement.
“I have a student who has MS and had a stroke, and just to get people moving can be tremendously beneficial, as well as talking to them about their favourite music when they were growing up.”
Her own personal challenges with MS have been many, she said.
A goal which she, along with friends and family, had been raising money toward six years ago – a trip to Russia for a hematopioetic stem cell transplant unavailable in Canada – never came to pass.
“Just before I was to go, the Russian clinic raised its rates beyond what we could afford,” she explained.
But a procedure she underwent in the U.S. correcting narrowing and blockage of veins in the neck – to improve drainage of blood from the brain and improve the functioning of the central nervous system – has been a life-changer for her, she said.
It effectively stopped a lot of the daily nausea and vomiting she was experiencing, which had been preventing her from living – and planning – any kind of normal life.
That has been a blessing for O’Kane, as it allowed her to spend more time single-parenting her daughter Isabella, who just turned 16 (her daughter, who had a congenital heart condition and required surgery for it at just three months old, is today in Grade 10 at Earl Marriott Secondary and an active singer and dancer).
Although she uses a motorized wheelchair for any outside trips, O’Kane still has a fair range of mobility at home, and has mastered the art of communicating – and teaching – by Zoom call and voice-activated software.
“I definitely have my ups and downs, but something I’m extremely grateful for is that I can still talk – sometimes MS affects speaking or the voice,” she said.
“If I can speak, I can teach and I can coach. And I love it – I love making a difference for people.”
While her plans for a broader health consultancy – Radiant Transformation Wellness Consulting – have had to be placed on hold during COVID-19, she says there is no reason she can’t help people, particularly the disabled or those with mobility challenges, in getting the benefit of dance or some form of dance-influenced movement right now.
“I had the name and proprietorship registered, but I’ve had to put that on hold for now,” she said. “But I think that the dance will ultimately become part of that, anyway.”
Receiving classes online also means that students don’t have to travel any further than a home computer screen, she said.
And nobody should consider that they can’t be helped by such a program, she said.
“I call the classes Movin’ and Groovin’ – it’s all just about keeping the body moving. From the core to the arms and the legs, you can move all the different parts, regardless of whether you’re in a wheelchair or in a bed.”
For more information, contact O’Kane at Dawn@dance-abilities.com