Q&A with Strictly Come Dancing pro Michelle Tsiakkas on Maggie’s and the benefits of dance

Thursday 21 December 2023

Michelle Tsiakkas, professional dancer on Strictly Come Dancing, has admired Maggie’s for years.

Fascinated by how our buildings compliment the cancer support we provide, she reached out to Maggie’s West London and has been teaching ballroom and Latin dancing to visitors there ever since.

After a successful salsa lesson, we asked Michelle what Maggie’s means to her and how dance and movement can benefit people with cancer and the people caring for them.

What was your first impression of a Maggie’s centre?

Just walking in is incredible because you immediately get a warm feeling. That comes from the design, but also from the people who work here. The staff are so calm and so lovely. It really is just like a warm hug.

What inspired you to reach out to Maggie’s West London?

I’ve been fascinated by the centres ever since I studied architecture, and I’ve always been amazed by how they can make people feel good just through their designs.

And then after becoming a professional dancer, I realised that dance and architecture are two things that could come together. Bringing dance into the centre just adds an extra element of happiness.

Dancing is therapeutic – listening to the music and moving your body – and it is a good physical activity for people with cancer too. Sometimes, traditional forms of exercise and going to the gym is difficult, whereas with dance, you exercise without even feeling like you are exercising.

My main reason for coming here was to give something that I felt could benefit others, and I’ve ended up really enjoying myself as well.

Maggie's philosophy is that, with the right support, nobody would lose the joy of living in the fear of dying after a cancer diagnosis. How does dance bring you joy?

Dance has always brought me joy, ever since I started when I was six. It’s just the movement, music and connection with people. I always felt like dance was a means of escapism from reality. I would get lost in my dance world, I wouldn't think about my problems, and it was like a comfort blanket for me. When I started to improve, it just immersed me in this world even more.

Tell us more about your experience teaching dance classes at Maggie’s

Well, at first, I didn't even know if anyone would want to join the classes!

I know what cancer patients go through – they’re tired, their bodies hurt, and maybe dancing is just not what they want to come and do. But it's been so rewarding and inspiring for me to see how much people have enjoyed it.

People come up to me after the class and say, ‘that made me smile, and I hadn’t smiled in a long time’, and that just makes me want to cry. Because I'm like, ‘wow’, it really does have that effect on people. It's proved that dance really does help.

How could dance and movement benefit somebody dealing with a cancer diagnosis?

It can help mentally, because stress can trigger more problems and actually slow down recovery. So minimising stress is the first step.

Then movement and keeping the body active is another thing, because when you're physically fit, you're stronger to fight disease.

And also, just the happiness that dance brings to people.

Listening to music, being around other people who are also enjoying themselves, that sense of community and learning a new skill and feeling like you're improving.

I think all these things are really beneficial to people living with cancer. It’s like a medicine. Mark (centre visitor) told me it's like a tonic for him. Even for me, I come here and I feel better afterwards.

What would you say to someone who wants to try dance or pick it up again but is nervous to start?

Dance is for everyone. Even if you've never danced before, you can always start from step one. I don't think there's anyone who can't dance. You just need the right teacher and a safe environment to learn. Everyone can do it, and honestly, I think that everyone should because it's really beneficial.

If someone doesn't feel up to going to a class, how might they get into dancing at home?

There are lots of online classes that you can be a part of, and that's great because you can do it in the comfort of your living room. You don't have to put your camera on if you don't want people to see you. And that can be a good first step into it, just to build your confidence before you go to an actual live class.

Do you need a partner to enjoy ballroom or Latin dancing?

No, you don't! There are solo styles of dance too. When I was young and I couldn't find a partner, I competed alone. The partner is just an extra element, but you can learn to dance solo.

What could dance look like to somebody who has limited energy, strength or mobility?

The great thing about dancing is that it's not just one set thing. Even if it's just from sitting down, you can still move. There are different styles, you can do different movements and adapt choreography according to what a particular person can or can't do. It's very versatile in that way.

And finally, in your own words, what is Maggie’s?

Maggie’s is… Comfort. Medicine. Happiness.

I really want to people to know about Maggie’s centres, because cancer is one of the worst diseases that you can go through, and more and more people are having to deal with it. And Maggie’s is the best thing for those people.

How we can help

If you or someone you know is worried about a cancer diagnosis, we have expert staff in our centres available to help you.

Last review: Dec 2023 | Next review: Dec 2024

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