Dance Teacher with Cancer Gives Back

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Jemma McRae started the Academy Street Dance Studio in Aberdeen, Scotland, 23 years ago and has devoted a great deal of time to building her clientele and giving a quality dance education to each of her students. She thought all that might have to change, however, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer four and a half years ago.

Jemma underwent a surgery and precautionary chemotherapy to keep the disease at bay, but it was not meant to be. 14 months after her initial diagnosis, Jemma learned the cancer had metastasized to her collarbone.

“I have been having weekly chemotherapy rather than monthly recently,” says Jemma. “I am very active, but that has definitely taken its toll. But I’m really fortunate that I can continue to run my studio.”

But even though Jemma isn’t at her best these days, none of her students have stopped coming to class because of her illness, which has allowed her to continue to run the studio and maintain her livelihood. Even when she lost her hair and began dancing bald, her students were fully supportive.

“I remember when my hair fell out I would wear wigs, but then when I was dancing my wig would just fly off, so I stopped wearing it,” says Jemma. “So I just wouldn’t wear one, and it became totally normal for the girls to see that. The parents of the children have always said they are very grateful that I keep going. But they’re part of the reason I keep going and I would love to show my thanks.”

Jemma wanted to find a way to say thank you to her students for sticking by her through her treatment. So when she found out that the Scottish Ballet company was allowing fans to “make a wish” and then granting five of those wishes, she knew she had to make a special request for the students who have been “a huge part of her life,” including her eight-year-old daughter, Izzy.

“For 50 years, Scottish Ballet has been CRAFTED BY SCOTLAND – by the people, the culture and the spirit,” their website states. “As our way of saying THANK YOU to the whole country, Scottish Ballet is inviting you to MAKE A WISH. In 2019, we’ll make five of your wishes come true as part of our 50th birthday celebrations.”

“When I saw the Scottish Ballet campaign, I thought it would be a lovely idea to give something back to my students,” says Jemma. In response to the campaign, she wrote wrote:

“I would love Scottish Ballet to either come to my dance studio and dance for/with my students or for my students (including my biggest fan, my daughter who is 8 and loves dancing) to be able to go to His Majesty’s Theatre to watch rehearsal or company class whilst Scottish Ballet are up in Aberdeen in January performing Cinderella. March 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then July 2015 diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Over the past 4 1/2 years, I have been so lucky to have been able to continue doing what I love best—teaching my students. I have had my dance school, Academy Street Dance Studio, for almost 23 years. I am very proud of my students & my achievements, especially given my recent health issues. I am now on weekly chemotherapy. I’ve done 12 weeks, and my students and their parents have stuck by me, supported me & given me a reason to continue to fight. I would love to in return give my students a special treat. X”

Only time will tell whether the Scottish Ballet honors Jemma’s wish and gifts her students with a learning experience they’ll never forget. Voting ends on November 7th. But in the meantime, Jemma has gotten lots of love and support from others, and her wish has been shared on social media numerous times.

Let’s keep it going! Share this story to spread the word about Jemma’s special wish!

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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