Dancing with angels

My Kelsey had such big dreams for the future...

Published by: Joe Cusack & Sarah Veness
Published on: 7th January 2010

As the first bars of music filled the living room, I sat up in my chair. I loved Christmas, and this was by far my favourite bit.
Dressed in her dancing costume, complete with Santa hat, my daughter Kelsey, 10, began dancing across the room.
It was the same every year. As soon as we'd pulled our crackers and munched through turkey, she'd perform a routine for the whole family.
And each year, it was fantastic! As she finished, she burst into a smile. 'Brilliant,' we all shouted, bursting into applause over our empty plates.
'A star is born,' smiled my husband Paul. Though we had seven children between us, we only had two girls, and our other daughter Ashley was a tomboy.
Kelsey was our girlie-girl. Even as a toddler, she'd insisted on wearing pink, sparkly outfits. As she grew older, she loved glittery make-up and jewellery. But, most of all, she loved to dance.
When Kelsey was four, she began dance lessons. Christmases flew by, with her always showing off her moves after dinner.
Then, aged 13, she joined a group called Inspiration, and began dancing in shows and competitions all over the country. 'Can you sew sequins on to my costume, Mum?' she asked, her blue eyes sparkling.
She practised every spare second of the day. 'What's that banging?' friends asked when they visited.
'It's Kelsey dancing,' I'd laugh.
On the day of a big show, she'd sit in front of me as I did her hair. 'Can you do braids, Mum?' she'd beg, forcing herself to sit still long enough for me to finish.
Sitting in the audience, me and Paul would almost burst with pride. 'Remember what I said,' Paul would grin. 'That girl's going to be a star!'
As Kelsey grew older, she had her own dreams, too. One day, after a trip to see a musical at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool, she turned to me. 'I know what I want to do Mum,' she said. 'I want to choreograph shows in London's West End.'
'Great idea,' I said, pulling her in for a hug. 'You'll be brilliant.'
So Kelsey started a performing arts course at college. At 17, other girls might have been out drinking, giving their parents sleepless nights, but not her.
In her spare time, she went into her old primary school to help teach dance routines to the little ones.
Then one day, she came home beside herself with excitement.
'Guess what?' she yelled.
'What?' I laughed.
'Inspiration have been chosen to perform at Euro Disney,' she grinned. 'We're going in February!'
'That's fantastic,' I beamed.
'We've got new routines to learn and costumes to make and...' Well, there was no stopping her!
In the meantime though, she had other things to keep her busy. She was due to perform in the Celebration of Dance 2009 at Southport Theatre, Merseyside. It was a big show. On the day, I braided her hair and got her costume ready as usual. 'Good luck,' I smiled, kissing her goodbye.
'Love you, Mum,' she said, kissing me.'See you later.'
'Love you, too,' I said, as she ran out the front door.
We were just about to set off to watch the show when the phone rang. 'I'll get it,' I called, pulling my coat on at the same time.
It was Kelsey's dance instructor. 'Kelsey's fallen and cut her mouth,' she explained. 'An ambulance is taking her to Southport Hospital.'
'We're on our way,' I said, racing out the door. The injury didn't sound serious, but we drove straight to the hospital, just to hold her hand.
'I hope she doesn't miss the show,' I said. 'It means so much to her.'
Minutes later, my mobile rang. It was her instructor again, asking for Kelsey's date of birth. 'October 6, 1992,' I said, without thinking.
I hung up. Then it hit me. 'Why didn't they ask Kelsey?' I said to Paul.
'Maybe it's worse than we think,' he said.
At the hospital, a nurse showed us into a family waiting room. What was going on? Even Kelsey's dance instructor couldn't shed any light. 'One minute she was dancing through the final rehearsals, the next she was on the floor,' she said. 'I don't know if she slipped, fell, fainted...'
Paul stepped outside to phone family. Minutes later, he was back, shaking like a leaf. 'I saw her arrive in the ambulance,' he said, grabbing my hand. 'They were giving her mouth to mouth.'
'No...' I gasped, my legs giving way. Surely he'd seen someone else.
Finally, a doctor came to see us. 'How is she?' I asked. 'She'll be wanting to get back for the show.'
But he stopped me, gently taking my hand. 'Kelsey's had a heart attack,' he said, softly. 'We're trying to get her heart started again.'
'Is she going to be okay?' I begged. Nothing made sense. How could she have had a heart attack? She was a fit young girl.
'We're doing everything we can,' he said. 'Would you like to see her?'
I was terrified, but had to be with her. 'Come on, wake up Kelsey,' I begged, as doctors rushed about. 'Mum and Dad are here. They've cancelled tonight's show, they won't put it on without you.'
I clutched her hand, willing her to pull through. An hour after she'd collapsed, we were told there was nothing else they could do.
'Goodbye, sweetheart,' I sobbed. 'We love you so much.'
Leaving her in that room was torture. Her hair was still perfectly braided, ready for her big show. Why had this happened? Doctors said her heart had stopped - they had no idea why. As a baby, Kelsey had been diagnosed with a slight heart murmur. But we'd been assured it didn't need treatment.
At her funeral, we played Dancing Queen. It seemed like the perfect song. Kelsey was buried wearing the dance costume she should have worn for the show on the night she died. We even did her make-up, complete with fake eyelashes and silver lipstick.
This Christmas, we laid a place at the table, wrapped gifts as if she was still with us... But there was no dancing show after dinner. She was meant to perform in a show called The Lost Christmas, which we had tickets for. I took the kids because Paul couldn't face it.
This year, the dancers hope to perform a memorial show for Kelsey. It will be the show they were rehearsing the day she died. Kelsey would want the show to go on. My comfort is she died doing the thing she loved most. She was born a star, and now she's our Christmas star. Even in heaven, she's still our dancing queen.
Vanessa Taylor, 39, Skelmersdale, Lancashire