People to Know 2014: Debbie Allen
It’s not every day you get to collaborate with a megastar such as Debbie Allen. She’s a Golden Globe–winning actress, has won three Emmys for her choreography, starred in Tony Award–winning theater productions, and directed a Broadway play. She’s choreographed moves for icons such as Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey.
So when Debbie’s T2 Dance Crew reached out to me to learn about Dance Out Diabetes, a volunteer-run organization I started in 2005 for people with all types of diabetes, I was elated. We share a like-minded vision of preventing and managing diabetes through dance.
Debbie’s personal connection to the disease makes her especially passionate about prevention. She watched her father struggle to control his type 2 diabetes, but while he made lifestyle changes, he never had a handle on exercise. Diabetes-related complications ultimately led to his death at age 63. Debbie understands the importance of fitness to diabetes management, and as a dancer and choreographer, she knows that dance is a free, easy, and fun solution. The blood glucose improvements that come from exercises such as dance may also help T2 Dance Crew participants avoid future diabetes-related complications.
Like Dance Out Diabetes, T2 Dance Crew (which was launched by Janssen Pharmaceuticals) brings the clinic to the dance floor. The only side effect is fun. That takes the form of salsa and hip-hop classes taught by dancers from the TV show So You Think You Can Dance.
And it works. Dance Out Diabetes data has shown that program participants with prediabetes and diabetes lowered their A1Cs an average of 0.21 points over the course of a year. Attendees with prediabetes and potentially undiagnosed diabetes (many of whom were participants’ friends and family) had the greatest A1C improvement: 0.25 points.
I didn’t get the chance to dance with Debbie at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions, but simply watching Fik-Shun and Janette Manrara from So You Think You Can Dance was rewarding. It’s hard to imagine even the most reluctant dancers not being motivated by their fluid moves. And, as Debbie knows, it starts with inspiring one person. So Debbie, rain check on a dance?
Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE, is a nurse, diabetes educator, and practice manager for the Madison Clinic for Pediatric Diabetes at the University of California-San Francisco. She’s executive director of Dance Out Diabetes, the author of Your First Year with Diabetes, a cartoonist, avid dancer, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators’ 2004–05 Diabetes Educator of the Year.