Dance Out Diabetes

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I went to a program called Dance Out Diabetes last Saturday. Twenty people were dancing, learning new steps, socializing, and having fun. There were also certified diabetes educators on hand to measure our blood glucose, A1C, weight, and blood pressure. I got a great feeling from it that lasted all day.

Dance Out Diabetes (DoD) is the brainchild of Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE. Along with all the credentials, she is a former figure skater who has “music in my DNA.” She says DoD combines her two passions, “music and love for people with diabetes.”

She says the program meets two basic needs for people with diabetes — social support and fun. “Diabetes self-management can be so isolating,” she says. “I have to do this, I have to do that. I don’t think we realize how we disenfranchise people by not providing support. At DoD, you’re just having a fun time.”

The program started with everyone signing a registration and consent form and having their weight, blood pressure, and glucose checked by volunteer diabetes educators. Then we had a salsa dancing lesson taught by Emily Coles, a nationally-known ballroom dancer who also has Type 1 diabetes. Each month a different professional instructor teaches a different kind of dance: jazz, hip-hop, Latin, rock and roll, and so forth.

Participants practiced the steps together. Although all but two were women, everyone happily changed partners and helped each other with steps. Then there was a 15-minute rest and hydration break, although it seemed more like five minutes for most people. They couldn’t wait to get back on the floor.

After the break we danced to the music of DJ Rosie, a long-time friend of Garnero’s who has an amazing range of music on her iPods. (Being a DJ no longer involves dragging records or tapes around.) “We have several different playlists for different audiences,” she told me.

Dancing is great exercise. “Top ballroom dancers,” Coles told us, “burn more calories than swimmers or runners.” Our group probably burned somewhat fewer, but it was still a good workout.

DoD is an official nonprofit with a 501(c)(3) status and a Board of Directors made up of professionals and people with diabetes. It’s an all-volunteer operation, from checking blood pressures to managing the Web site to raising money. Fundraising has been the largest problem. Some of the usual health funders have turned them down so far. But Aetna Insurance has come through with a grant, which enabled DoD to have free programs once a month.

Their monthly membership program costs $10 for adults and $5 for people ages 8–17 and above 60 and for low-income individuals. It’s free for kids 7 and under and for all volunteers. Or you can join for a year for $75 ($40 for people over 60 or under 17), which gives you access to all events and to the Web site for capturing and tracking your personal health metrics. You can see your own results over time online and can add your own information to the record.

Membership also includes access to four 10-minute nonurgent phone consultations with a diabetes educator yearly. For those who can’t come to the dances, they have a $10/year off-site membership, which provides access to the personal metrics program only.

People don’t have to have been diagnosed with diabetes to attend. Those who are at-risk, as well as family, friends, and supporters are also welcome.

I know I had fun. I can only stand for about two minutes at a time, but the music called me to move, and it felt good. It was an 80-minute bus trip each way, but it was worth it. The other participants I interviewed — all of them wanted to talk — kept saying how much they were enjoying themselves. “Very, very good,” said one couple. “Very fun.”

Two women were leaving at the same time as me, and they had both worked up a big sweat. “Yeah,” one said, “but it’s a good sweat.” They and all the others I asked said they would be returning next month and bringing new people with them. I’m planning to return also.

It would be great to have such programs in other cities besides San Francisco. Garnero is working with interested people in New York and Philadelphia who would like to start something similar. If you or someone near you would like to start such a program, refer them to the program’s Web site.

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