As an advanced practice registered nurse and a nationally known certified diabetes educator, Theresa Garnero used to struggle to get out of the door in time for work in the morning because she was so busy dancing to music on her iPod shuffle. Garnero had received the device at an American Association of Diabetes Educators conference, the same conference that given her the 2004–2005 Diabetes Educator of the Year Award.
In 2006, those mornings of dance suddenly became an inspiration to Garnero, who has over 25 years of nursing experience with diabetics.
“I realized there was something missing in the field of diabetes education,” she recalled. “There were really no venues that were diabetes-friendly.”
A former figure-skating champion and current lover of dance, Garnero explained that she realized dance could be used as a fun way to promote health and diabetes awareness in the community — and also provide a physical activity that included everyone. With that realization, the idea for Dance Out Diabetes was born.
Dance Out Diabetes — DOD — is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to prevent and manage diabetes through dance, education, support and increased access to care. Since 2010, DOD has been hosting dances open to the public on the second Saturday of each month at the African American Art & Culture Complex at 762 Fulton Street in San Francisco.
“We have a participant who is 1 Â½, and we have participants in their late eighties and early nineties,” Garnero noted.
The venue is open to everyone — people with diabetes, those at risk for any form of diabetes, their friends and families, and people who want to be more aware and become educated about the disease. Adult participants and all participants with diabetes are given $10 in “carrot cash,” which can be used at farmers markets.
“So many organizations focus on a type of diabetes, and there is an animosity between groups,” Garnero said. “We are trying to improve the health of the community and create a circle of support.”
There are three main types of diabetes — type 1, type 2, and gestational. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body’s defense system attacks the cells that produce insulin, which controls glucose levels. People with this form of diabetes require daily insulin shots. This type, although it can affect any age, tends to develop in children and young adults.
People with type 2 diabetes are either resistant to insulin or are insulin-deficient. Ninety percent of diabetic cases are type 2. Being overweight or obese is often linked to type 2 diabetes because it causes insulin resistance and leads to high glucose levels. Diet and exercise can be used to manage type 2, but oral medication and insulin are usually eventually required.
Gestational diabetes — GDM — develops in pregnancies with high glucose levels. It occurs in 1-to-25 pregnancies. GDM usually subsides after a pregnancy, but both the mother and child are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life.
DOD participants receive not only a 45-minute dance lesson, but also a health screening and training that measures their blood glucose, blood pressure, weight, and waist circumference, all of which are tracked over time.
“Over 100 people got health screenings, and nearly half of those returned for further dances and screenings,” Garnero related. “Nearly all returning participants had A1C — 3-month glucose average — blood levels in the ideal range of 7% or less, and those who were above that level lowered it in a statistically significant way.”
In its first year, DOD had an 11% return rate. Now in their fourth year, the organization is at a 41% return rate.
Each event is live-streamed and has been viewed by almost every state in the United States, as well as several other countries.
This year’s educational focus is Diabetes in Real Life. Each month centers on a different topic within this focus.
“I give a brief announcement about the topic, but participants get individual questions answered at the diabetes education tables — no seminar. Our focus is to get people moving. Plenty of organizations do a lot of talking already,” Garnero explained. “The main thing to emphasize is we are having fun. It is a community of non-dancers getting together for the health of it.”
DOD is primarily a volunteer-run organization, and there are no salaried full-time employees. Most of the contributors — such as the dance instructors, the DJs and the diabetic educators — donate their time or are paid a small stipend. The organization runs mostly funded by donations and sponsorships.
When asked why, as a full-time RN, she puts so much time into DOD, Garnero had no hesitation in replying: “Last month, I met a man whose relative had diabetes. He came as support. At the health screening, he found out he had really high blood pressure and high blood sugar. He had no idea, had felt perfectly fine. Now he can do something about it. We helped this man,” she emphasized. “Now he can talk to a doctor and fix these problems. I have so many stories like this. It makes it all worth it.”
To find out more about Dance Out Diabetes or to make a donation, please visit their website at www.danceoutdiabetes.org, or contact the AAACC by email at email@example.com or by phone at 415.922.2049.