By Hannah Stevens @hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Alana Tompson
Producer: Hannah Stevens, James Thorne
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Cassidy Richardson, 20, was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at eleven but started displaying tics at seven-years-old and believed the disorder would stop her from ever dancing professionally.
The dancer, who is training at Transit Dance Studio in Victoria, Australia, has learned to incorporate her tics into her movements and says she never feels more free than when she’s dancing.
While many still associate Tourette Syndrome with swearing, Cassidy wants to educate people about the different ways the syndrome can present.
She told Barcroft TV: “My tics can actually become part of the movement. Anything can be dance, any movement can be a dance move, especially in contemporary dance and improvisation.
“Tics are both motor and vocal. Tics can be anything from a hit of the nose, it can be a sniff, it can be a cough. I’ve got, I think, 150 different tics all happening at one time.
“From literally the top of my head to down to my feet, including my tongue, my eyes, my toes, my fingers - everything.”
Richardson avoids suppressing her tics, as that can make them even worse, and uses her unusual movements as part of her rhythm.
She said: “The stereotype with Tourette’s is that if you‘ve got Tourette’s you swear, whereas it’s very different than that. Tourette’s can range from very mild to very severe.
“Most of the time it’s embarrassing. I still get a lot of people, if they don’t know what it is, they look at me and they’re like, ‘What are you doing? Like, ‘What’s that movement that you are making? What’s that noise you are making?’”
After exhibiting tics at age seven, Cassidy was closely monitored by doctors but they were reluctant to diagnose her with Tourette Syndrome.
Cassidy’s mum Janelye Richardson said: “It all started when Cassidy was quite little so we took her to the doctor. To diagnose Tourette’s they need more than one movement tick and more than one vocal tick and for them to be in existence for at least 12 months, so at that point she hadn’t had any what we thought were vocal tics.
“I think the doctors were unwilling to diagnosis at first because they wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything else causing the symptoms. But they were also reluctant to diagnose with Tourette’s because they considered it a negative condition.
“Cancer is a negative condition too, no one wants that, but if you don’t have that diagnosis, how do you treat it? How do you live with it? How do you cope with it?”
Before her diagnosis, Cassidy was frequently bullied for her tics but found power in her diagnosis and made it her mission to raise awareness of the condition.
She said: “I got a lot of bullying when I was younger. Pretty much because we didn’t know what it was. I’ve always been pretty open about it so when I finally got the diagnosis I came back to school and just told everyone.
“I was like, ‘Look, this is what it is and I’m just like you but I have these little quirks’. All my friends have always been very supportive of it.
“I just want to put as much information as I can out there, so that people understand what exactly the syndrome is and not have these misconceptions.
“Knowledge and information leads to understanding and acceptance, I’ve always lived by that motto.”
As a child, Richardson feared that her tics would stop her from pursuing a career in dance, but now she knows she can achieve her dreams no matter what tics crop up.
Richardson said: “When I was young I thought that this choreographer might not want me because I might be annoying with my tics.
“But as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten to know the industry, I just say, ‘Oh, just letting you know I’ve got Tourette’s, so in the middle of class I might make a facial grimace at you. I’m not angry at you, it’s just one of my tics. They say it’s fine and get on with it.
“When I’m concentrating on something that I love, the tics kind of just go away. I don’t really know how to explain it other than just being free, being in the moment, not thinking about the Tourette’s, not thinking about anything else other than the movement that I am doing.”