Since revealing her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2018, Emmy Award-winning actor Selma Blair has been a source of inspiration for many people living with the neurological condition. She’s let the world in on her experiences — both the victories and the obstacles — of living with MS through social media, in interviews and public appearances, and in the 2021 documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair.”
Now, the 50-year-old star of “Cruel Intentions” and “Hellboy” has taken on a new challenge, which is testing her physical limits and helping further boost MS awareness. She’s competing in the TV series “Dancing With the Stars,” which streams on Mondays on Disney+.
On Monday, Sept. 19, Blair and her dance partner Farber had their first performance of the season. Blair wielded her cane — which she uses for stability to help with MS-related mobility issues — when she first stepped onto the floor. As the music started, she set it aside before she and Farber launched into the Viennese waltz to the song “Time of My Life,” by David Cook. Ultimately, the duo tied for third place among 16 teams, earning 28 out of 40 points for their performance and ensuring another opportunity to dance during the Sept. 26 episode. Clips of the performance are available on YouTube.
Following the performance, Blair expressed gratitude to Farber for his role in their historic performance — which garnered high praise and a few tears from the judges, fellow contestants, and audience members. “I actually never had a dance before with anyone. … I never had someone ask me to dance in that way,” Blair said following the performance. “To learn at least one dance, I mean, the gratitude. To have Sasha hold me in a frame so I could leave my walking assistance behind and feel like, ‘Wow, he can help me be fluid and move,’ and knowing how much support from people literally, physically, and figuratively, what it means and it feels so good. … It did, it felt like a fairy tale.”
MS is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. The disease causes a person’s immune system to erode the myelin sheath (fat) that covers their nerve fibers. This nerve damage can lead to various physical and cognitive (thinking, learning, or remembering) symptoms.
Blair has been frank over the years about how her multiple sclerosis symptoms affect her life. She’s been open, too, about how they could be a factor in her “DWTS” performance. Although Blair reported achieving remission in 2021, she experiences common MS symptoms. These include foot drop, spasticity (involuntary spasms or stiffness), dystonia (uncontrolled muscle contractions), balance issues, fatigue, and brain fog.
Prior to her “DWTS” performance, she noted the challenge of maintaining her balance if she loses physical contact with her dance partner. “I am really nervous if I lose my partner’s touch,” Blair told “Good Morning America.” “I am used to having a counterbalance of my dog or a cane — or at home, my abilities are much more seamless than out and about — so this is a bit of a flop sweat.”
She predicted that fatigue, too, could be an issue. “I’m just going to have to be careful with stamina, with things that I’m building because I’ve been in bed for — I mean, not in bed, totally — but I do things [and] I go back to bed,” she said in an interview with Page Six. “There is a chronic illness, a real issue. But, like, how do you push yourself without pushing yourself too far learning these things?”
Blair has no previous dance experience, which further raises the stakes as she competes. “The truth is when I am trying new things, I get a lot of spasticity, dystonia, and I am OK,” she said. “This is a process of me getting out and moving.”
Blair optimistically and accurately predicted she’d be able to hold her own on the dance floor. “Walking is much harder for me than when I can get into the groove of settling into dance and fluidity,” she told ET.
Blair told Page Six how she convinced her loved ones to support her “DWTS” ambitions. “There was terror and nerves because I don’t have experience dancing, like, with steps. I can pose like a dancer for maybe two seconds,” she said. “But once I decided and convinced my team that I could do this, that it wasn’t going to be too dangerous for me, that I could do this [it was OK]. We do these things we want to find joy in. And then I’m all in.”
In an interview with People magazine, Blair said she’s competing on “DWTS” both for herself and for those who have supported her during her MS journey. “It is for the viewer because that is what has given me support. In dark times in my life, there are people that have come forward — strangers on the street or Instagram, my original fans ... I’m doing it for them,” she said.
“Kindness and visibility are so important — to explore, be curious, and expose people to differences of speech or movement,” she added. “It’s for everyone at home that it resonates with.”
Just as Blair frequently expresses gratitude to her supporters, members of MyMSTeam have expressed gratitude to her for being honest and open about her diagnosis — including her struggles. In doing so, she helps spread awareness about MS to those who don’t understand the condition.
“My heart goes out to Selma Blair because of her diagnosis,” wrote one member. “I am also feeling hopeful that people will start understanding how to be more compassionate, instead of not believing me, talking behind my back, making judgments about me.”
“My true friends and family who understand this, I am forever grateful,” they added.
Another member commented that watching Blair continue to thrive and take on challenges has helped them appreciate their accomplishments, including completing a rigorous eight-hour sea kayaking trip. “Thank you, Selma. I might stagger, fall, drop things 100 times a day — but like you, I’m moving forward,” they wrote.
Enjoying physical activity such as dancing or sea kayaking can yield valuable health benefits for people living with MS, including improving flexibility, strength, and cognitive function and reducing fatigue.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) recommends that people pursue an exercise program that meshes with their interests and their abilities. If dancing isn’t your thing, consider other forms of physical activity you might like. It doesn’t have to be rigorous: You could try gardening, going for walks, practicing light yoga, or opting for stairs instead of the elevator.
Exercising in the water is another low-impact way to improve your health. “The unique qualities of water provide exceptional benefits to people with MS, including stretching tight muscles and improving flexibility,” according to the NMSS.
In a 2021 webinar titled “Stretch and Strengthen,” physical therapist Gwynne Jones offered the following advice: “Be sure to start any new exercise routine gradually and allow your body enough time to rest and adjust to this change.”
Health experts recommend that people living with MS speak with their health care team before starting an exercise program. Working with a physical therapist can help ensure you don’t overexert or otherwise hurt yourself.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 192,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
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