I didn't talk about my diabetes at all during the years I danced with the New York City Ballet. A ballerina is an athlete and psychologically I needed my directors and co-workers to perceive me as healthy. Most importantly, I needed my body to be in optimal working order. As a person with diabetes that meant I needed to keep my blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible with insulin injections. Exercise increases the effectiveness of insulin, and dangerous low blood sugars could result, which they did. Experiencing a low blood sugar episode is not only scary as your body shakes and you lose focus, but it can be extremely dangerous with the risk of many side effects including the possible loss of consciousness. Thankfully this never happened to me.
My directors at that time, Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins, knew I had been diagnosed with diabetes, but I did not share any information about my disease or the constant efforts it took to control it. And I wanted it that way! Every dancer had some complaint, some obstacle that might have been affecting their performance. My challenge was to show that I was the same dancer I had been before my diagnosis.
I was diagnosed during my third year in the company and continued to dance for 13 more years. Even during my years as a Soloist, when I felt more confident about my ability to manage my career and my diabetes, I rarely talked about my condition, consumed as I was with how to manage, improve and perfect my performance.
As a dancer I never felt that what I had accomplished was anything extraordinary. I honestly never thought that my perseverance, dedication and success might one day give strength and hope to someone else. But everything changed when I left the stage and began speaking publicly about dancing with diabetes. Time and again I have been deeply touched by all the people, young and old, who have responded to my story, been moved and helped by it.
Recently I was asked to be involved in the making of a video with other people with diabetes, reminding us all to stay active and test our blood sugar levels. (From now until World Diabetes Day on November 14th for every viewing of this video a child in need will receive life-saving insulin).
In the video I work with a young dancer named Samantha, who was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago. Her doctor had recommended she and her mother read my book, "The Sugarless Plum," to know what is possible for a dancer with diabetes.
Her mother contacted me through Facebook and email and we began to correspond. When I realized how close we live to each other I immediately thought to ask the film's director if Samantha could be in the video with me. I hope you enjoy watching us dance together, knowing you are saving a child's life somewhere in this world.