Dancing with Diabetes- Inspiring Story of a Neglia Dancer

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Watch Winging it Buffalo Style’s LIVE interview with Hannah by Lauren Hall 11/18/14

At first glance 17 year old Neglia Conservatory student, Hannah Arndt from St. Catherines, Ontario looks like any other young ballerina in the making: tall, thin, long limbed, and graceful. Upon a closer look, you will notice a small box-like object protruding from her small frame. It is an insulin pump. When Hannah was 13 years old and a promising year-round student at the National Ballet School (NBS) of Canada in Toronto, she was diagnosed with Diabetes 1 and her world was completely turned upside down.

Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. At the time of her diagnosis, Hannah was in the beginning of her second year at NBS. It was necessary for her to take a semester off in order to get her treatment under control and returned to NBS in January to finish the school year. In May she was told she would not be accepted into the school for the following year. They told her that her feet did not look good enough in pointe shows, but Hannah at the time felt it had more to do with her Diabetes. When she was first diagnosed, Hannah says, “Dancing was very difficult. I didn’t know my body as well as I do today. I would have to sit down after barre every day. (When the blood sugar of a diabetic is low they need to take carbohydrates to bring their blood sugar level back up. It usually takes around 15 carbs and 15 minutes to start to bring levels up).  I didn’t know that I should have taken the time to eat a proper snack before dance class and that being 5 minutes late for class was ok as long as my body was ready for two hours of ballet.”

After leaving NBS she returned home to a new high school and began dancing again at her old dance studio – Ballet Etc. She was only dancing about 9 hours a week. The two years at Ballet Etc gave her the time to understand her body. She wasn’t away from home so her mom could help manage her diabetes and she wasn’t dancing 20 hours a week like she was at NBS. For the first two years of her diagnosis she was giving herself insulin injections every time she ate. In the summer of 2012 Hannah and her mom looked into insulin pumps and discovered the Omnipod which was designed for athletes. “Most of the pumps were connected to tubing and I couldn’t wear them under a leotard,” Hannah says, “With the Omnipod, there are no tubes and it’s wireless. To this day I swear by it. If you were to watch me perform you can’t even tell I’m wearing it.”

With her new Omnipod and feeling she had full control over her disease, Hannah knew she was ready to pursue her dream of becoming a professional dancer. With her family, she researched several professional programs in Canada and the US. She was accepted into summer intensives in the United States and Canada but could not find anything like Canada’s National Ballet School, where the academics is done in house with the dance program.  Most of the other programs required you to continue your education online.

Through a suggestion of a friend Hannah discovered Neglia Conservatory of Ballet. Hannah and her mom looked at the website and made an appointment to audition for the pre-professional program and started classes with Neglia in the fall of 2013. Hannah says, “Neglia has re-kindled my love for Ballet. Diabetes still has its lows (no pun intended). I hate when I have to sit and watch my classmates’ progress through an exercise or when my blood sugar is high and I completely space out in the middle of a combination. On the bright side I have matured faster than most dancers my age. At 14 I knew more about nutrition than most kids. I know that if I’m going to be dancing for several hours that I should eat a well-balanced snack of carbs and protein. When I have finished dancing I know to drink something with a lot of potassium to re-hydrate my body. I am very grateful to Sergio Neglia and Heidi Halt for believing in me and helping me with my day to day struggle with dancing with diabetes. As I finish my last year of high school and look towards the future I hope to become a professional ballet dancer – a professional dancer with Type 1 Diabetes!”

Hannah and one of her parents commute six days a week from St. Catherines to Buffalo. It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on traffic and border crossing. When asked about the considerable commitment it is driving to and from Buffalo each day, Hannah’s mother Chris Arndt had this to say: “The answer is simple – We have the best of both worlds here at The Neglia Conservatory! A pre-professional ballet training program with professional performances and the opportunity to finish high school at home. Please understand it is not an easy task driving to Buffalo 6 days a week. As a family we made a commitment to give Hannah the opportunity to pursue her dream.  We trust Sergio Neglia and Heidi Halt with Hannah’s dream. The drive to Buffalo is worth it!

Photo Credit- Gene Witkowski

Photo Credit- Gene Witkowski

Hannah will perform in the corps de ballet of the Snow Scene and Flower Waltz in Neglia Ballet’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker. The Buffalo News praised the production: “Neglia presents a passionate and engaging ‘Nutcracker.’Sure to be a Buffalo holiday tradition, Neglia’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is the stuff childhood dreams are made of. Its high caliber choreography, luscious sets and costumes, as well as the brilliant playing of the BPO, make it a holiday treat worth experiencing.” The traditional production was conceived, choreographed and produced by Neglia Ballet Artists Artistic Director Sergio Neglia and Executive Director Heidi Halt. The production features 120 characters danced by a corps de ballet, soloists and principal professional ballet dancers from around the world as well as students from Neglia Conservatory of Ballet and other local dance studios.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Shea’s Performing Arts Center and Neglia Ballet Artists collaborate for the sixth consecutive year to present Neglia’s ballet set to the classic holiday score of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Sat. November 29th at 7 p.m. and Sun. November 30th at 2 p.m., at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.  

For tickets, call 1-800-745-3000, go to www.ticketmaster.com or to Shea’s Ticket Office (open M-F 10a-5 p; Sat. 10a-2 p and during shows through intermission.)  Tickets are $29; $40, $55. Premium seating is also available for $75. For groups (10+), please call (716) 829-1154. For more information, visit www.sheas.org

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