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3 Times World Salsa Champion Chris Marques on his recovery from M.E.
I couldn’t let ME waltz off with my life
As the choreographer for Strictly Come Dancing, Christ Marques needed to be physically on top form. What the BBC didn’t know was at the same time as training celebrities he was suffering from a debilitating disease ME, a secret he kept for a decade. Health editor LUCY JOHNSTON hears about his struggle with the condition and miraculous recovery…
AT 29 CHRIS MARQUES is an international dance star and has been described as one of the most innovative Latin and salsa dancers in the world. Yet he had suffered with ME, an unexplained flu-like illness, since he was 20.
Chris, who gave cricketer Mark Ramprakash the breakthrough to win Strictly Come Dancing two years ago, never dared speak out about his condition because of the stigma attached to ME, which is often unsympathetically called “yuppie flu”.
He has coached luminaries such as Rod Stewart’s wife Penny Lancaster, former England rugby player Austin Healey, Holby City actor Tom Chambers and former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, yet for a long time he only managed to gather enough energy to work by drinking Red Bull and loading up on caffeine.
He would often walk off the show and collapse with exhaustion and would regularly take to his bed with aching joints, “brain fog” and overwhelming tiredness.
Now the award-winning dancer is cured thanks to a ground-breaking approach that acts on the links between mind and body and claims a complete recovery rate of 85 per cent.
ME (myalgic encephalopathy) affects the body’s nerve and hormone systems. More than a quarter of a million Britons, including 25,000 children, suffer from it, some so badly they are confi ned to bed or a wheelchair and are in constant pain.
During the 12-hour “lightning process” treatment, sufferers are taught mental and physical exercises to correct the “imbalances”.
It worked so well for Chris that he claims to have as much energy now as he did when he began his career.
Chris began dancing at an early age, encouraged by his Spanish mother who had a passion for flamenco and his Portuguese father, the lead singer in a Latin band.
“When I started formal dance classes at 12 I was suddenly completely in love with dance,” he explains.
Six months later he won the French dance championship in his age group and has won scores of competitions since. Before he was struck down with ME Chris had so much energy he was able to complete academic studies alongside his burgeoning dance career and gained the equivalent of five A-levels. At 18 he left his native France for London so he could “be among the elite of dance”.
It was there he met his dance partner who has become his long-term girlfriend, 28-year-old Jaclyn. The couple made a phenomenal impact on the dance scene with their imaginative and fi ery dance routines.
Together they have become a formidable team, winning numerous competitions and world championships. It was no surprise when they were asked to become the first choreographers on Strictly Come Dancing in 2005, which had been running for two series without outside trainers.
When he developed ME 10 years ago Chris was subsidising his dance career by working as an IT manager. He was putting in 14-hour days and managing a team of 10 middle-aged men.
“I would come out of work and be rehearsing until dawn. That was the only way to fund it. I would leave work on Friday night, get on a plane and go to a competition in a different country and be back, ready for work, on Monday,” he recalled.
One day his body stopped working properly.
“Out of the blue I got what I believed was heavy flu. It stayed with me for a month and a half. It was strange. I went back to work but within two weeks I was struck by a stronger version and in bed for the following two weeks.
“I got brain fog, my mind wasn’t sharp and I found it hard to make decisions. Sometimes I would get convulsions and a high temperature. I became susceptible to pains through dance training. I would wake up every morning feeling in more pain.
“I was very worried. I was always very healthy and suddenly there was something getting the better of me.”
Yet Chris found he could not tell his bosses.
“I went into a strange mode. I tried to be as efficient as possible and did the least possible. I didn’t want to admit there was something wrong,” he says.
His GP did regular tests, looking for cancers, Lyme disease (a tick-borne illness affecting the immune system) and even malaria but all the results were negative.
Eventually his doctor diagnosed chronic fatigue in 2005. “It didn’t make me better. It just gave a name to what I was feeling and made me realise I hadn’t gone crazy.
“Before I would go into a dance session I would have between two and four Red Bulls to get me going. I would go as long as I could and after the session I would collapse into my taxi home and then go straight to bed.”
Eventually he mentioned that he had chronic fatigue to Austin Healey during a coaching session.
“I just told him that I fi ght it on a day-to-day basis. Austin made a call to the lightning process and persuaded me do it. It was the best thing I have ever done in my life. After the first day I didn’t just walk back into the room where we were doing the process, I jumped into it. I was energised to the levels I had when I was 16. I didn’t need the stimulants; I was just me. There’s a logical explanation of the mind and body connection that I now understand.”
After 10 years of nursing her partner, Jaclyn, 28, joined him in the lightning process to give him support and found that she too benefi ted, gaining renewed vitality that had been drained by an underactive thyroid.
“I would be sleepy all the time and spent lots of time feeling lethargic,” she says. “Now my energy levels are fantastic. I’m loving going to rehearsals and trying new moves.”
Phil Parker, who pioneered the approach, has managed to help people get out of hospital beds and wheelchairs back to full energy levels. He is now helping people with other disorders and getting similar success rates.
These include chronic back pain, migraine, digestive disorders, asthma, obsessive behaviour, guilt, panic attacks and anorexia.
He teaches patients to recognise the thoughts that trigger their stress reactions, such as, “I’m worried I will be too exhausted to go shopping”.
They learn how to stop the thought progressing. The next step is to replace the negative thought pattern with a positive thought. This is designed to create new brain connections that “heal” the mind and body.
PHIL, an osteopath who worked with Chris earlier this month, said: “During my work I came across people who were stuck with their symptoms but I looked at them and I couldn’t see why.
They were no worse than other people with ME who had got better. I don’t easily accept that things can’t be done. If people tell me something can’t be done, I think, I bet it can.
“The lightning process gives people the techniques to break the cycle and re-wire their brain out of ME and a whole range of other illnesses.”
Phil has spent nearly 20 years developing the process and thousands of sufferers have been treated. He says they have all improved and 85 per cent show vast improvements over a long period. The technique is controversial, however, with much of the traditional medical community remaining sceptical.
Even the ME Association does not advocate it. Spokesman Tony Britton says: “We don’t like the way the process is sold. It claims too much and until it can be proven scientifi cally, we are not convinced by the claims made.”There are plenty of people willing to stand up and support Phil, however.
Two years ago Esther Rantzen’s 29-year-old daughter Emily regained her health having suffered with ME since the age of 14. Trapped in a wheelchair and wasting away, she had wanted to die.
Esther said: “For 14 years I have watched her struggling like a fl y in a web while the sticky strands of fatigue paralysed her. Now at last I can say it: Emily is well.”
Chris is also convinced he is well again and for good. In January he and Jaclyn will embark on the Anton And Erin – Cheek To Cheek tour of the UK with 24 shows over 27 days, not something he could even have considered doing a year ago.
“I am so excited to start the year ahead as a person with 150 per cent of my energy,” says Chris, “being myself on stage rather the shadow I had become.”
* Chris Marques and Jaclyn Spencer will be dancing in Anton And Erin – Cheek To Cheek, touring throughout the UK in 2009.