the dance of diabetes

It is a modern dance though it has its roots in classical forms. It was originally choreographed for just a handful of dancers but now it is staged for many. In recent years it has been performed all around the world. I have seen it many times.

The curtain rises and the stage is empty. Slowly, alone and in pairs, the dancers enter–men and women. They are dressed simply in tights and leotards, all in tones of soft browns and grays, with one wrist wrapped in a band of red fabric. The dancers inhabit their space with sparse yet defined movements, engaged with each other, but each portraying a distinct set of steps.

Suddenly, one of the dancers contracts his center and extends one arm forward, palm facing upward. While he curiously studies the fingers of the upturned hand, his other arm reaches behind and then quickly arcs overhead coming full circle its palm slapping down against the other. As palms meet, the dancer deepens the contraction, a pained look grabs his face. Grazing his fingers along the wristband it unfurls in a flutter of scarlet fabric. He straightens and assumes his previous movements–the colored cloth now flowing behind his every step. ballerinas-g39791c62a_1920

This contraction of the body, where the torso curves forward over the controlled pelvic area is a fundamental movement in modern dance. Martha Graham–the mother of modern dance– developed the gesture from observing the physical manifestation of grief in the body.

Soon, another dancer stops. This time a woman. She too contracts her center, contemplates the fingers on her upturned palm and follows also with the circling arm, the jolting slap and the unfurling of the scarlet rivulet of cloth. And, so it goes. In syncopated rhythms, new dancers initiate the pattern while those already afflicted repeat it over and over. Their eyes now remain fixed on their upturned hands that lead them forward.

As the tempo of the music intensifies so does the frenzy of the dancers now marked in red–about 10 percent of the performers. They respond to the dissonant notes that punctuate the melody while the others maintain a more composed presence. The noise of the slapping of the hands amplifies. Sporadically, they also clasp fist in hand drawing their arms in toward their torso or legs. Again the contraction of their bodies and the grimaced faces. Continually, they return to their earlier movements but always with one palm upturned and leading their way.

As the dancers’ paths intermingle, the rivers of red become intertwined among all of them. There is a flurry of color amid the neutral gray and brown hues. Some of the grieved are gently lifted up and held in the air or are tenderly embraced while others dance quietly alone extending their arms upwards calmly or angrily beseeching the heavens. A few tuck the wounded hand behind their backs, tethering its gestures and move on without it–though the red trail remains.

Eventually, the music regains a slower pace. The dancers all resume the steps of the first part of the piece regaining semblance of movements of everyday life and common interactions. Slowly they each quietly walk off stage. The lights dim.

This is the representation of the experience of diabetes. Its steps are hard to master and its care is tempting to ignore. Unsuspecting individuals in unprecedented numbers, an abrupt diagnosis and suddenly a life marked by the demands of modern blood-letting. Rather than preferring to allow one’s life fluid to course through the body unseen and uninterrupted, diabetes requires a more intimate relationship.

The hand must reluctantly but gracefully present itself. Fingers must be pricked, poked and squeezed multiple times a day begging the deliverance of the droplets of our inner essence. The sacrificial digit must be chosen and its offering must then be measured with precision to determine blood sugar levels. Numbers digitally displayed on a meter determine one’s destiny for the day as well as for the tomorrow. Medications are quickly and somewhat arbitrarily prescribed–some of which are delivered by measured injections to various parts of the body.

Food becomes more enemy than friend and each bite becomes suspect and open to investigation. Kidneys, eyes, and toes–and yes, hearts, are no longer private property but are open to the purview of medical technicians. And yet, the dance of life must go on. Interestingly, Martha Graham once stated that the mission of her work was to “chart the graph of the heart”. In essence, diabetes monitoring requires the same.

Not everyone appreciates modern dance. This is an unsettling piece. But, diabetes can be re-choreographed as its treatment is improved and, more importantly, as its causes are prevented.

Sharings on the experience of managing diabetes respectfully welcomed.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

By Gordon

4 thoughts on “the dance of diabetes

  1. Why haven’t we been to any dance performances recently? You describe it beautifully… Interesting comment about food becoming more enemy than friend – strikes me as being at the heart of so many issues in our current reality.


  2. A-M, you are absolutely asking the right question. why haven’t we been to a dance performance recently? actually, i was just at jacob’s pillow just to breathe in dance but did not see a performance. however, i thought about this connection between life and art on the way home. and yes, as if the relationship with food is not already majorly complicated, adding diabetes to the mix confounds things way further.


  3. Don’t go without me!! What is the name of this dance that you describe with such haunting beauty? This is so true. Also Diabetes is isolating and lonely. why is this with more and more people becoming dancers in this life change? Keep writing — it is so worth reading.


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