4.19.17

Making It In NYC… As A Dancer… With T1D

I was born in Vancouver, BC and at 18 months old I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in Canada where majority of medical supplies are covered and you don’t have to beg your insurance company on your hands and knees for equipment, like insulin pumps and CGMs. I think I’m even luckier to have parents who were not afraid of my diabetes and let me join numerous dance classes at a young age. I’ve always had a passion for dancing and performing and I knew that I wanted to make it my career as I got older. I also knew that NYC was the place with the most opportunity to make it happen and that is why I moved to the Big Apple.

I’ve been living in NYC now for five-and-a-half years. It was definitely a challenge adjusting, not only to the American health system, but also managing my diabetes while living alone for the first time. On top of all that, I had to learn how to juggle auditions, classes, the gym and multiple jobs. At times I think, “I’m only ONE person, this is impossible!” but after all that hard work, I’ll book that one audition and get on stage and know it is all worth it for the joy I feel performing.

Whenever I have a performance I like to unhook from my pump for many reasons. One, I’m terrified of going low on stage and forgetting choreography. Two, I don’t trust that it will stay put while I’m moving around and sometimes my costumes won’t have a sturdy enough place to clip it to. And three, I’d definitely have to turn on a temporary basal rate and wouldn’t want my pump beeping in the middle of a performance. Now with no insulin delivery mixed with the adrenaline before a show my sugars usually run a little high but with the high energy and extensive cardio usually exerted I tend to drop after the show. The tricky part for me is that some shows are different where the choreography is not as demanding so I won’t drop after the show. Every performance is a new experiment so I just take it step by step and I don’t really get frustrated because nobody has perfect blood sugars and I’m getting to do what I love.

During rehearsals I keep my pump connected. This is always a guessing game. Depending on if I’m learning new choreography or just running the numbers over and over again or sometimes I won’t be in the section being worked on that day, I’ll have to adjust my basal rate according to how much I think I’ll be moving. Usually I’ll drop my basal rate to about 60% then keep adjusting it if needed throughout the rehearsal. My favorite place to keep my pump while rehearsing is in the front of my sports bra. However, my pump started malfunctioning due to water damage from all the sweat. Then I tried having it clipped to my pants but sometimes it would un clip and I’d be pirouetting with my machine flying a foot around me, connected to my body only by the tubing. So a friend suggested that I get non-lubricated condoms… to cover my pump of course! It’s totally worth all the weird looks I get at the drugstore when I walk up to the register with a box of them. So now I just wrap the pump in a condom then wear it in my bra. Genius idea. It’s not bulky, it keeps my pump dry and it’s nice and secure so it won’t slip out and get in everyone’s way.

As for auditioning, it’s a strange situation. I don’t think I’ve ever had a good sugar read during an audition day. You’re making a first impression in front of a table of strangers whom you are trying to get to like you. You have no idea what they will ask you to do and they are watching your every move. I always disconnect from the pump when I’m auditioning because I’m paranoid that my condom covered pump will come flying out of my bra, or the temporary basal alert will beep and the casting directors will think I’m rude for having my “phone” go off, or they see that I have a medical issue and don’t want to hire me because I’d be a liability if I were to have an emergency. It has happened! I had a contract signed with a cruise line to dance on one of their ships and when they received my paperwork back from my physical, they retracted the contract due to my diabetes. I was devastated then, but grateful now because that experience only propelled me forward to bigger and better things. I wasn’t going to let that one minor set back keep me from my dreams. So I don’t hide my pump because I am ashamed of having diabetes, it’s just that I want the bigwigs behind the table to notice me for my talent first and not for the strange machine that they would be questioning.

All in all, everyone knows that living with diabetes is challenging and unpredictable. I’ve been dancing with Type 1 now for 23 years and I am still trying to figure it out. My findings so far have been: if I’m low, I just have a little juice and then put my tap shoes back on. If my sugars are high, I just get some insulin in me and dance even harder. And most importantly, the one thing that I have always known for sure is that having diabetes does not limit you! To keep up with my adventures as a diabetic dancer in NYC, follow me on IG @dancingwithda.betes!

Alicia Kee is 26 years old and has been living with T1D since she was 18 months old. She was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada and now resides in NYC where she is pursuing a career in dance. Alicia loves singing karaoke, eating cookies and napping. Follow on IG: @dancingwithda.betes

2 thoughts on “Making It In NYC… As A Dancer… With T1D

  1. You have danced your way throughout your journey and every twist and turn along the way has never limited your pursuit to fulfilling your dream to dance. Love from your first ballet teacher❤️ Miss Rori

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