Dance Out Diabetes

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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  • Theresa G

    Thanks, David. It was an honor to dance some funk with you! Keep up the good work. Love your blogs.

  • jim snell


    Thank you for excellent article. It reminds me of an excellent book title lablelled the Dance Away Lover. This group where analysts looking at married couples and the basic styles of couples whereby the Dance away Lover was one of those.

    Originially they were going to do book on sexual disfunction and ended up looking at couples interaction. they had about 6 to7 basic types and the manner of interactrion. The Dance away lover wasone of those styles.

    I found it most interesting and helpful.

    Best wishes and good luck and special thanks for all the informative blogs not withstanding the ill informed static from the sidelines.

  • Dawn Swidorski

    Great article – super informative and I was there so I know from first hand experience it was a blast!
    There is room for plenty more people to attend. Another program on June 25th at 1 pm. BVHP Y 1601 Lane St. Just one block off the Revere stop on the T Line.