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Tap dancing to raise awareness of MS

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Sam, Penny and Grace

Penny O'Connor developed a love for tap dancing after she was diagnosed with MS a few years ago. 

Here she tells us how her friends in her tap classes helped her raise funds during MS Awareness Week to support others with MS.

I have raised money for MS charities before and it's something very close to my heart. Five days before Christmas in 2012 I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. As you can imagine, there wasn't a lot of Christmas cheer in my family that year!

I have been on my current medication, Fingolimod (or Gilenya as it’s commonly known) since January 2015 and - so far - no relapses, so it must be doing something right!

My consultant and MS nurse mentioned that I would benefit by doing a regular but mild form of exercise and so, in June 2015 I decided to bite the bullet and do something about it. I'm not one for exercising at the best of times, but as someone who was brought up on the old Hollywood musicals, I decided to search around for a tap class in the local area for my sister and I to join.

Starting to tap dance

I contacted a local class and the tap dance teacher, Elaine, invited my sister, Sam, and I to watch one of her classes and have a go if we wanted to. We signed up immediately and we have not looked back since! Don't get me wrong, we're no Ginger Rogers’ by any stretch of the imagination, but we are having FUN (oh and benefitting from the exercise of course).

Towards the end of 2015 I started to think about how I could fundraise for MS Trust during MS Awareness Week 2016. I’m not very good at baking so a cake sale was out of the question, along with any adrenaline-fuelled challenges, so I asked Elaine if she wouldn’t mind me commandeering her tap classes during that week to raise money. Elaine said it was an excellent idea and she would also have a think about fundraising ideas.

The tap challenge takes shape

Between us we decided that I would try and attend as many classes as I could during the week in fancy dress and have the option for other members of the classes to dress up if they wished. I also spoke with my manager where I work to see if it would be ok to have an MS Trust collection tin at reception, along with a sponsorship form for any members of staff who wanted to sponsor me (I assured them I wouldn’t be wearing a blue wig on reception during the week!).

In the weeks leading up to MS Awareness Week 2016 I prepared information handouts to give to the classes that Elaine runs, which encouraged people to join in by “Being Bold in Blue” during the week. At first some were a little sceptical, but after reassuring them it would just be dressing up with blue wigs, T-shirts, tutus etc while doing a normal tap dance lesson, they were keen to take part. As the event neared I had requests from members of the class wanting to order T-shirts, tutus, wigs – whatever the MS Trust was selling really!

Dancing in blue

MS Awareness Week 2016 began and I was very nervous going to the first tap class dressed in a blue bob wig, blue MS Trust T-Shirt, blue tutu and even school socks that had blue bows on them! I even channelled the late Amy Winehouse’s look with electric blue eye makeup!

When I arrived at the class (one for the more experienced tappers I may add) I was so pleased to see that the class had also dressed up for the occasion! Even Elaine, my tap dance teacher, had an MS Trust T-shirt on, although she decided not to wear the blue bob wig! Still, seeing Elaine wearing another colour except black was a nice surprise!

Penny's tap class dressed in  blue

Elaine had also come up trumps by creating a playlist that referenced the word “blue” in either the lyrics or name of the group/band, as well as some brilliant routines. She had everything from Ann Miller singing “Shakin’ The Blues Away” to Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” and ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”. One particular routine, during the first class, was to The Blues Brothers' “Sweet Home Chicago”. It lasted 7 minutes 58 seconds and by the end of it I thought there was no way I could continue with my challenge of attending more classes!

Still, I managed to attend three more classes on the first day alone, each one with varying degrees of experience, and almost all of the class members were wearing blue coloured clothing. At one class my 10 year old niece, Grace, dressed up to take part as she had also been raising money for MS Trust by getting her own sponsorship. For my sins I even managed to attend a fifth class the following morning but needed a well-deserved rest after that.

A very successful fundraiser

I was overwhelmed to receive a certificate from the MS Trust confirming that the total raised was £632.10 – this amount included £107.00 that Grace raised by having her own sponsor form! I couldn’t have done it without the help of my sister and fellow tappers, especially my tap teacher Elaine for letting me interrupt her regular tap lessons in the first place.

I know the money raised will go towards the excellent work the MS Trust does to help those affected by MS: from the literature they provide to their valuable research. Final thought – would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

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