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Dancing Together

Sorcha McElchar

Lauren O’Reilly

I’ve never been great at making friends. I get in my head, and the whole “just be yourself” thing makes me even more nervous. What if the real me is too much? Or not enough?  The other reason I find it difficult is that I usually don’t have that much in common with many of my peers.

At the age of four, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called APS1 Syndrome. From age two, my life has been comprised of hospital stays, doctor’s appointments, surgical procedures and sick days. I missed so much school that it was difficult for me to join in with the other children.  They’d already formed friendships. I wasn’t necessarily excluded, it just felt like I was a visitor. That’s why I prefer my own company.

Books were my way of escaping. I was content sitting alone with a good book.  

Of course, at times, I would look at groups of girls giggling and wish I could join in, but would I even get what they were laughing about?  Any time I did join in, I felt like I had to pretend. I had to change the way I spoke because being around adults so much meant I spoke more maturely than my peers, which would get me weird looks. I had to pretend to find things funny even if I found them stupid. I couldn’t be me.

For a time things were a little bit better when I started secondary school. I made a friend, and I felt like I could be myself around her.  She knew I had a serious chronic illness and seemed ok with it. Then things started happening to all the girls in my year…except me.  Boys, nights out and alcohol were the main topics of conversation.  None of which I had any experience (or very much interest)in. I tried, but once again, I felt like I had to be someone else to be included. It was exhausting.

I decided I needed something outside of school. A group of like-minded people. I decided to audition for the Christmas Panto. I enjoyed watching dance and musicals, so why not see if I could be in one? I might make friends. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it was here that I discovered I love to dance. I attended every rehearsal despite it being so physically exhausting. Unfortunately, despite all the effort I put in, I fell ill the week of the show, and I was hospitalised. I was heartbroken. 
The choreographer for the Panto, Tanya Ward, actually owned a dance school. Aishlingi Academy. I asked mum if I could start taking dance lessons. From then on, I was part of the Aishlingi family. I belonged.

Illness meant that I had to stop dancing for a few years, but when a new treatment made me stronger and healthier than I had ever been, I started taking Ballet classes with Aishlingi Academy. I felt like I’d never been away.

I don’t feel like I must pretend to be someone I’m not when I'm there. Everyone is supportive, and when I perform with them, I feel like I’m an essential part of something special.