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How dancing saved a teenager’s life

Tom Oakley dancing and jumping in the air
Tom Oakley dancing and jumping in the air Image credit: channel4.com

It is a known fact dancing is a great way to keep active and to keep your wellbeing intact, but for a teenager from Wavetree, Liverpool, it was a way to keep him alive.

Tom Oakley was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child, the condition clogs up the lungs and digestive system with unwanted mucus.

From the age of seven Tom started dancing, not only was it his passion but the movements helped clear his internal system.

This week a Channel 4 documentary traces the footsteps of this inspirational young man and the condition which affects 1 in 25 people living in the UK.

Tom, now 18, said: "Having cystic fibrosis, you don't really have a choice about whether you want to exercise. You simply have to exercise no matter what.

“My condition definitely does affect me. My lungs burn, my stomach hurts, and there are other complications, but I never let it stop me.

"I can't live without dance. I'm being 100 per cent serious. Not only for the health benefits but for the social side – the friends you make that I'm not sure I’d make anywhere else."

The teenager has been in and out of hospital for most of his childhood and needs to take a hundred tablets a day to control his condition.

But when he left mainstream school at the age of 12 he was adamant to change his life around, make up for lost time and took up dancing.

He would practice up to 60 hours a week, his commitment paid off when Tom was accepted at the award-winning performing arts school, the Rare Studio, when he was 13.

The studio supports dancers regardless of personal or financial circumstances, with their professional support Tom went on to land a place at the prestigious Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance based in Twickenham.

Rare Studio director Lauren Inglesby told Liverpool Echo: "Tom is an incredibly talented and versatile dancer who has worked extremely hard to hone his craft despite very difficult circumstances.

"Not only has he had to contend with auditioning during a global pandemic where he was confined to training in his front room, but he is also living with a life-limiting condition and the challenges that brings daily.

"In the 5 years I have worked with Tom, I have never heard him complain. Dance is his life which has been rewarded with a place at an amazing school. It’s quite extraordinary and nobody deserves it more.

"This is what Rare is all about, providing the space, the team and the right training and opportunities for young people who have the talent and potential to be successful.

"We are so proud of Tom and can’t wait to see what he goes on to achieve!"

The Boy Who Can’t Stop Dancing is on Channel 4 on Tuesday August 3 at 11:05pm and available afterwards on All 4.