Army veterans whose bodies have been shattered by bombs and bullets are learning to live again through the joy of dance.
Once super fit vets whose broken bodies left them feeling they had nothing left to live for are responding to the incredible feel good therapy inspired by Strictly Come Dancing.
Many vets who have also been crippled by mental health issues after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are beating their demons by dancing like they never have before.
The programme is the brainchild of Gary Edwards who presents Dancing with the Stars in America and who believes dance can help heal all physical and mental wounds.
The life-long pal of Strictly legend Len Goodman has now launched his own Dancing With Heroes campaign to help vets and others crippled by injuries and mental health issues.
He has teamed up with the Back on Track charity which helps rehabilitate injured servicemen and women and the Lee Rigby Foundation which also helps struggling vets to run dance therapy sessions up and down the country.
Now an army of Britain’s brave vets have joined his Strictly revolution and are tangoing like there is no tomorrow.
Last Saturday Back on Track held its Dancing with Heroes ball at London’s Royal Garden Hotel at which many injured vets danced with celebrities including Loose Women presenter Andrea McLean, Game of Thrones star Christian Vit and EastEnders actress Gillian Taylforth to help raise money for its cause.
Private Mark Allen, 28, who served with the 1st Royal Anglian Regiment lost both his legs in Afghanistan in 2010 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device but wowed the ball with his ability to dance the tango in his wheelchair.
He has undergone extensive rehabilitation and skin grafts and admits the long, painful road to recovery has taken every ounce of willpower he possesses.
But it is dancing that has brought joy back into his life.
He said: “Using a wheelchair hasn’t stopped me from learning to dance. “Getting out there on Saturday was just incredible. One of the best things I’ve done.
“A few moves had to be adapted, but the smooth surface of a dance floor is ideal for wheels!
“I would encourage anyone to give it a go – it’s simply a lot of fun.
"I had no idea that it was possible to learn to dance in a wheelchair, or that it would be so strenuous, but it’s a wonderful experience and puts a smile on my face every time.
“Learning to dance has really helped me.
"I am learning Ballroom and Latin and now I approach physical challenges like dance with more confidence and I manage my disability better.
“There’s something to get up for.”
And Lance Corporal Martyn Compton, 34, who served with the Household Cavalry, suffered horrific burns to 70 per cent of his body in a Taliban rocket attack in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2006 but now says dance has given him new hope.
Martyn from Staplehurst, Kent, was set on fire when his armoured vehicle was hit in a rocket attack.
He lost both his ears, nose and eyelids in the attack which also killed three of his colleagues.
As he crawled 100 yards to safety he was also shot in the leg and as he fought to survive after finding cover his body armour melted to his skin.
Martyn, who lives in East Sussex with his wife Michelle and two children, said: “I didn’t see myself as a dancer, but I can’t believe how much fun it is.
“Music really relieves the tension and the stress.
“Being in a dance studio means being around a group of like minded people which is life affirming and really helps anxiety and depression.“I enjoy learning new skills and responding to instruction.
“It has been a really rewarding experience.
“Now I can see why the celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing don’t want to be voted off the show!
“Gary is an experienced teacher and he’s very patient.
“My big dream is that I will be able to dance the tango with my wife next year, something I wouldn’t have believed possible even before I went to Afghanistan.”
Pete Hobbs, 32, a former Sapper with the 39 Engineer Regiment spiralled into a decline after a string of shoulder injuries in training resulted in him needing four major operations.
While in hospital he contracted septicaemia and was just hours from death when his symptoms were recognised and medics saved him.
He was about to be deployed to Afghanistan but his military career was in tatters and Pete was pensioned out of the army.He battled back to become a lorry driver but shoulder problems eventually meant he had to quit and he suffered depression, anxiety and mental health issues before he got in touch with Back on Track and he met Gary.
Pete said: “I used to dance as a boy and wasn’t bad but I stopped doing it when I was 13 because I was getting bullied at school over it.
“I’d forgotten how good it makes you feel and how it lifts your mood and restores you self belief.
“It is funny how things have gone full circle because at one stage dancing with Gary at the ball I had all the confidence in the world to throw a few shapes in front of everyone and it felt amazing for me.
“I got the buzz of being in front of the crowd, standing tall and being proud.“Ballroom has been great for me mentally and it has helped me regain some mobility in my shoulder.
“It has been a long time since I hung up the patent shoes as a boy but I will be keeping it up now – it lifts my mood and it is good for my shoulder.“You notice how you feel straight away when you are on the floor.
“The posture snaps back up and you’re taller and the can feel each beat of the music with more precision and the rhythm just envelops your entire consciousness until all the stuff you are worried about has gone.
“It all started as a little chat about how dance could help me recover but now I’m starting to think about using competition as a recovery goal.“But ballroom is a not a solo sport…. so I need a new dance partner!”
The Arthur Murray dance studios have now made available dance studios to Back on Track which was co-founded by Dr Aamer Khan, a burns specialist, and his wife Lesley Reynolds.
Dr Khan said: “At Back on Track, we work hard to rehabilitate and resettle into society, former members of the armed forces who have been wounded, physically or psychologically, not only by providing medical treatment including reconstructive surgery, but also psychological and practical support.”
Gary Edwards said he was inspired to help vets through dance because he wanted to “give something back”.
The father-of-two is the winner of more than 30 international dance titles and says a chance meeting with Michael Jackson in 1996 in Brunei in Malaysia, where he was teaching the Royal family to dance, made him believe dance could be used to heal.
He said: “Michael wanted to learn to dance the cha cha and he soon turned it into the funky cha cha but what I remember is that he seemed sad and lonely and that dance was his refuge.
“He was incredibly humble and gentle and up to that point my life had been all about dance as competition.
“In the years that followed I couldn’t get his gentle spirit out of mind.
“That is where the idea that dance is a healer was born for me really.
“It was a tremendous honour to work with Back on Track and the Lee Rigby Foundation and to play a small part in the recovery of these incredible people.
“I don’t think I will be teaching them the funky cha cha but then again who knows?
“We really were dancing with heroes at the ball, each of us playing a small part in giving our servicemen a brighter future.”
Gary says chance encounters with a US army veteran while working on Dancing with the Stars in America and a young disabled girl also convinced him to help British vets.
Gary, who is 6ft 4ins tall and is nicknamed the Dancing Giant added: “Five years ago in New York I met an Afghanistan vet called Mark who had had both legs blown off.
“I told him dance would put some joy back into his life and he said ‘no way man’.“But I had him dancing the salsa in his wheel chair, moving his body to the music and moving his arms.
“It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
“When people tell me they can’t dance because they have two left feet I tell them about Mark and how he learned to dance with no legs at all.
“After that I met a young disabled girl at a dance competition in America who danced ballet in her wheel chair in front of a mirror.“Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe what I was looking at.
“It made me weep at the beauty of the human spirit.”
As a patron of Para Dance UK, which promotes dance for those who would normally be excluded, Gary has spent the last year travelling Britain to set up his Get Britain Dancing campaign aimed at promoting the health benefits of dance for all.
Eleven million people in the UK are disabled and one in six are affected by disability.
Gary believes millions more crippled by mental issues and lack of confidence can also benefit by just getting up and dancing.He added: “It has become a passion of mine.
“It may sound crazy but I think the NHS could save millions by investing in a dance programme instead of prescribing anti-depressants.“The physical benefits for the heart and the muscles are obvious.
“But the joy that dance brings into people’s lives is even more important I believe.
“Dance is a healer, it’s that simple and I’m out to spread the word.”
Please visit http://backontrack.london for more information about the charity.
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