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Dance to the Beat of Diabetes Support

Theresa Garnero has a beat you can dance to

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

Have you ever heard a song that made you want to drop everything and dance? Music that just seems to take up residence somewhere inside you and set your toes to tapping? Getting your groove on can be a fun way to add more activity to your day. Amy Jordan’s Sweet Enuff Movement health and wellness program features dancing as a good way to get moving. Dancing for exercise also inspired Theresa Garnero, APRN-BC-ADM, MSN, CDE®. She then founded Dance Out Diabetes (DOD) and I’m excited to share more about the organization with you today.

Diabetes Education: Focus on the Positive

Theresa Garnero
Theresa Garnero

Already working in the nursing field, Theresa was intrigued when a friend suggested she begin working in the diabetes community in the late 90s. This same friend encouraged Theresa to become an editor for a nursing journal and start drawing cartoons. “Because of her, those three mainstays are still very much a part of what I do today: writing, cartooning and diabetes education,” said Theresa.

Fast forward a few years, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) named Theresa 2004-2005 Diabetes Educator of the Year. Theresa also went on to author and illustrate, “Your First Year with Diabetes: What to Do, Month by Month,” published by the American Diabetes Association.

From her start in diabetes education, Theresa has focused on the positive. “We want people to come in and feel inspired,” she said. “I try to make people smile, catch them off guard and then think, ‘Oh, okay. I can do this.’ You’ve got to find balance, fun and positivity.”

Dance Out Diabetes

As she continued to work in diabetes education, Theresa saw a gap in education along the care continuum of type 2 diabetes prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management. In the back of her mind, she started thinking about ways to address information related to type 2 diabetes prevention and management.

Around the same time, she won an mp3 player at an AADE conference, and loaded it with her favorite dance music. “I found myself dancing in the morning and having a really hard time leaving the house to go to my other passion of diabetes education,” she said. “That made me think, can we just combine these two worlds, dance and diabetes? Can we work on preventing and managing diabetes through dance and diabetes education?”

What she came up with was DOD, a volunteer-based 501(c)(3) organization that hosts monthly dance events coupled with health screenings and diabetes education at no cost. Attendees have the opportunity for one-on-one time with a Certified Diabetes Educator® and a dietitian. Participants receive $10 in “Carrot Cash” to spend at local farmers’ markets after each event if they donate to the program but it isn’t a requirement. An average of 40 people attend each event.

Response has been enthusiastic from participants, according to Theresa. One dancer told her that her events inspired him to do other kinds of exercise and now he goes to his local YMCA nearly every day. Education efforts have led others to visit farmers’ markets and eat better.

Dancing for all Types

In addition to the education, each event features a different type of dance led by professional instructors. “We really make the dances easy,” Theresa said. “There is a cultural odyssey of dance. We learn, we laugh and we have a good time. You can see it from the smiles on the dance floor.” Themes for the 45-minute sessions have included salsa, belly dancing, samba, disco, line dancing, hip-hop, hula, funk, techno, Afro-Brazilian and tai chi.

The public is welcome, regardless of diabetes status. Theresa makes it a point to offer resources and fun programming for those living with type 1, type 2 or prediabetes, those who support someone living with diabetes or anyone looking to add more activity to their life.

Dancing by the Numbers

“It’s interesting the outcomes that we’re seeing,” Theresa said. “Some people bring their support person or their loved one who didn’t even know they may be at risk for diabetes. They get a diabetes screening, and we may refer them back to their primary physician. We’re really proud of that work.” According to DOD statistics, 8.2 percent of those who said that they did not have diabetes actually had an A1C of greater than 6.5 percent.

A former Joslin Diabetes Center employee helped DOD crunch some numbers. In 2012, about 57 percent of participants maintained or lost weight, and the average waist circumference decreased by approximately 2.73 inches. In 2013, the DOD return rate increased from nearly 25 percent to almost 42 percent, and participants showed an increase in intentional activity overall. Theresa estimates that 500 to 700 people have participated in its dance events since 2010. DOD reported their results at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions.

Interested individuals can attend the dance events in the San Francisco area, or view instructional videos of past events on the DOD website. Please note that you should consult with your healthcare team before starting any type of physical activity or making any lifestyle changes.

Hula, salsa and belly dancing? Sign me up! It was fascinating to hear about the wide variety of programming Theresa has made available, and heartening to hear about their outcomes. Throughout our conversation, I definitely got the “fun vibe” that Theresa attempts to infuse into each event. She’s a real dynamo! Be sure to check The DX for more ideas on dancing for fitness, too. Many thanks to Theresa for sharing her story.

All the best,

Laura K.


Disclosure: Theresa Garnero received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.


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