Inverness Courier, 5th March 2006
Hit TV show pushed Jermaine to spread the benefits of Salsa
Health promotion specialist Jermaine Allison-McCracken wants to encourage
couch potatoes to adopt a healthier lifestyle and take up dancing. Calum McLeod
spoke to Jermaine and learned of her background and her love of dancing.
THE BBC's hit series "Strictly Come Dancing" kept millions of viewers glued to their armchairs as they watched comedians and TV chefs transformed into ballroom dancers.|
Watching, however, is not good enough for Black Isle woman Jermaine Allison-McCracken who wants to persuade that audience to leave their couches and dance their own way back to health and happiness.
Jermaine's own busy life includes a now part-time post as a NHS health promotion specialist, a new role as freelance health improvement consultant with her own business, SaluVida, and perhaps her most enjoyable job, a dance teacher.
Under the banner of Salsa North, Jermaine teaches the Latin dance at venues in Inverness, Dingwall and Strathpeffer, putting into practice her message of fitness, fun and exercise for all.
"We all know exercise is good for you," she said. "What people are less aware of is that lack of exercise is a killer.
"Why are people dying prematurely when we should be doing something about our own lives? It's easier to eat cheap food rather than going home, cooking a good meal and sitting down together. Society is making us ill."
Active though she has always been, Jermaine has also suffered the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
As an aerobics instructor, Jermaine had at one time spent 35 hours a week doing aerobics alone. Working with the NHS in Inverness she was spending as much time sitting at a desk.
"I was spending the last few years in an environment that was slowly killing me," she said. "I needed to move."
It was this realisation that prompted her to go part-time, allowing her to develop her own business and do more dancing.
Dancing and sport have been passions for the six foot tall mother of three since she was a small girl. Born in London, the daughter of a Jamaican father and an English mother, both teachers, she was marked as different from an early age.
"People would crowd round to see the baby," she said. "They expected me to be striped like a zebra because that was what they'd been taught."
The family moved to Luton where she played a number of sports, including badminton, netball, which she played at county level, and basketball.
She also became the first woman youth worker to go into a boys club. She went to Ilkley College in Yorkshire, but dropped out after two years to set up her own business.
"It was the Green Goddess era and I wanted to be part of that," she said.
Eventually, however, she decided to head for the sun and leave Yorkshire behind.
"I packed up my rasta-blaster and aerobics gear and headed off to Portugal," she said.
"I was lucky because a magazine for ex-pats did a feature on me and I was able to pick up work after that."
Jermaine didn't even learn Portuguese before making the move, and though she had a Portuguese boyfriend, most of their communication was in their mutual second language of French.
She returned to England with her daughter Tanyella, who had been born in Portugal, and became involved in youth community education.
"This was a time when there was a lot of unemployment in Luton, with a lot of unemployed black and ethnic and single mums," she said.
Her innovate work included a massage programme for babies, years before a similar scheme was introduced elsewhere, and an exercise programme for new mothers and their babies, the babies playing their part by acting as counterweights.
Moving into full time work, she developed a fitness programme for the over-50s which included arts and crafts sessions along with aerobics to keep both mind and body fit.
"Towards the end of that project, I had a fitness bus and we used to drive into the estates, blast the music out to get people's attention and give them good health advice. We were going to the people who were hard to reach, the ones who just stayed in their rooms and got depressed," Jermaine said.
"I was also working with West Indian, Irish, Pakistani and Irish community centres, along with a couple of ordinary community centres."
Her last job in England saw her employed as a health promotion officer with South Bedfordshire health trust, working with ethnic minorities and other groups, such as travellers, before she took up a new job with the Caithness and Sutherland NHS Trust.
"It was a big culture shock," Jermaine admitted.
"I loved the outdoors, that wasn't a problem, but when I was in Luton I lived in a big terrace with an Indian corner shop open just along the road and a Safeway just a cycle ride in the other direction. Where I was living I was six miles from the nearest shop and I was used to running out of milk in the middle of the night and I had two kids at the time, sol 'had to put them in the car and drive off so I could get milk. My partner eventually moved up with me, but I was three or four months on my I own. Childcare was a nightmare. I asked about nursery and people laughed in my face."
One solution Jermaine eventually adopted to solve her childcare problems was to employ au pairs from Eastern Europe, both male and female, including a men's judo champion from Slovakia.
"They were all really nice but I had some problems with the local community because attitudes were different. That didn't bother me. I was born different," Jermaine declared.
After working in Thurso and Wick, health promotion posts were centralised and Jermaine was transferred to Inverness. She now lives in Cromarty with husband Campbell McCracken and three children Tanyella (18), Jerome (12) and Tamzene (8), but Tanyella won a scholarship to the United World College in Canada, which has also funded a gap year for her in Uganda.
The family all have their own interests from sport to music - Campbell is a saxophonist with amateur jazz band Highland Swing - avoiding any danger they could be labelled couch potatoes, but Jermaine does have one thing to thank television for.
"Thank goodness for 'Strictly Come Dancing' - without it I don't think I would have had the courage to go part-time," she said.
Dancing is only one aspect of what Jermaine now does. Under the SaluVida banner, she plans to offer freelance health improvement advice to companies, carrying out what she calls human body MOTs on staff and suggesting, for example, how much weight should be lost corporately, giving benefits in concentration and productivity.
However, dancing is probably where her heart lies and she has organised events in Inverness and
Dingwall with guest instructor Michael Pottinger from Birmingham, along with her regular dance exercise classes in Dingwall, Strathpeffer and Inverness.
The classes have attracted dancers from as far away as Skye and Thurso and from age 12 up.
"Parents can bring their teenagers and both can dance," Jermaine said.
"Inverness is a city now and every city should have its own salsa scene, and with the legislation coming in, we should be able to do it in a smoke- free environment, which is a lot better."
Call Jermaine on 07803 706842 for more details.