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Teenager with rare condition says dancing on Children In Need will be ‘surreal’

A 16-year-old with a rare genetic condition has said it feels “surreal” to have the chance to dance live on air on BBC Children In Need because music has got her through some of her “darkest times”.

Brianna, from Ipswich, will perform on Friday November 17 as part of a collaboration between Children In Need, The One Show, Morning Live and BBC Radio 2, who have launched The Challenge Squad.

The squad is made up of a quartet of young people with awe-inspiring stories, who have been helped by Children In Need funding, with each set to take on a different challenge to help fellow young lives.

Hoping to lead by example, Brianna is first to undertake her challenge and will be joined by a professional from Strictly Come Dancing, who is yet to be announced.

Group standing together
BBC Children In Need’s 2023 Challenge Squad (BBC Children In Need/PA)

She said she will give her “absolute everything” in the dance.

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“For me, music has always provided an escape,” she said.

“Having to give up dancing, something I loved with my whole heart, due to the nature of my condition… music was the thing that helped me through some of my darkest times.

“And this challenge, it feels surreal, but it also feels like my second chance to give dance my absolute everything.”

Brianna was born with a rare genetic condition called cat eye syndrome, which affects her heart, bowels and vision.

She underwent open heart surgery when she was one week old before she and her family were introduced to the Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation (Echo), which Brianna said has been so “important” to her that she feels compelled to “give back” through fundraising.

Girl smiling at the camera
Brianna has cat eye syndrome (BBC Children In Need/PA)

“My primary goal in fundraising has always been to give back,” she said.

“For myself, BBC Children In Need and Echo brought back brightness to my life when I felt my most isolated.

“The Echo project has been important in my life for as long as I remember and have supported me through not just my health but through my education and passions in film and music.”

The teenager said her condition is “consuming” and can leave her, at times, in bed, feeling like she “can’t do anything at all”, but Children In Need has helped her feel as though she can “make a difference”.

Woman posing with her hands on her hips
Alex Jones said she feels ‘over the moon’ to be part of The Challenge Squad (BBC Children In Need/PA)

Brianna has also undergone extensive bowel surgery and deals with fatigue and other issues, including hypermobility.

She added that Echo – which is now funded by BBC Children In Need – has provided her with practical and emotional support and a place where she feels as though she “truly belongs”.

The Challenge Squad is guided by Jermaine Jenas, Alex Jones, Roman Kemp and Vernon Kay.

The One Show presenter Jones, who will be mentoring Brianna ahead of her challenge, said: “We are over the moon to be able to bring the audience along on this journey with us and to showcase the determination of the Challenge Squad as they each complete a challenge very close to their heart.”