2 Sugarfree Plums; How Type One Diabetics Can Still Be Professional Dancers with Technology






I was terrified of fireworks as a kid. On the fourth of July, when my family would go watch a show, I would hide in the car. “I want to see them, but I don’t want them to see me”, was my brilliant reasoning as my family likes to tease me about. What ccan I say, my true talent is the ability to personify everything, even if it doesn’t speak very highly of my IQ level.

“Not colored lights in sky!” -me, in dog form

The Bodies Never Lie dance company is working on a modernized version of ‘The Nutcracker’, infusing the story with modern AI premises to look at the effect of technology on human agency and connection. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I am not particularly tech-friendly. I hate cars, was the last of everyone to get an Instagram, couldn’t retrieve it when it was hacked, and still need one of the comapny dancers to walk me through how to airdrop our rehearal videos after every take. All the luddites in the chat say, ‘waddup’.

‘iNut; An Artifical Intelligence Nutcracker’ is set to be performed on March 20th here in New York. We are looking at everything from dating apps, to self-driving cars, drones, robots replacing human workers, and upgrades of medical devices and creating the choreography through principles of neuroaesthetics, or how the brain engages with visual art. I’m interested in what technology is doing to human agency and connection. Free-will and feeling ‘human’ is especially curious to me as a diabetic, reliant on man-made medication every day, and reliant on my own ability to manually care for myself since my pancreas is a broken apparatus in the daily function of the human body. If I was a machine, I would need a replacement, an upgrade, or maybe just the junkyard.

Last year, during the quaratine, I tried going on an insulin pump to better manage my diabetes. I didn’t know anyone else who had one and had to learn how to insert a machine that stayed on my body for multiple days at a time through a zoom call. In the search for a wider community, I turned to the internet to meet other diabetic dancers who wear a pump. idealy in New York, ideally who are also nice people. Try putting that in the keyword search. Hashtag #CoolNiceSmartNewYorkBasedDiabeticDancerWhoWearsAPumpWhoWillHelpMeFixMyLife

The internet provides.

Diabetic Dancers, Alicia Kee and Jess Ruhlin

I found dancer and teacher, Alicia Kee through an instagram search. She is now dancing in iNut with the company. In our last Saturday marathon rehearsal, we finished with a discussion about our diagnosis of diabetes, what we wished could be fixed with technology, Wouldn’t it be great if there was some pancreas pill to make us run as efficiently human-machines as possible? We are both apparently afraid of the implausible scenario of how to make our own insulin in the apocalypse.

Speaking of all unlikely-fears, have you seen that first Lord of the Rings movie? You know that creature that is supposed to be the most frightening, that big fire monster in the mine? The only that scares away the hoards of orcs about to overtake the fellowship?

Yeah, I don’t find him that scary. I would take him over the orcs. Mostly because I firmly believe in my ability to unrun one big slow monster with a demonic firewhip more easily than I could handle a bunch of moronic nuisances wielding swords.

“Hi, it’s me, your diabetes, here to wreck your day”

Is it me or is ‘hoards of orcs’ really fun to say? It is also the technical term for the all the drunk NYU undergrads screaming on the sidewalk at 3 am when the bars close.

“What do you mean, LAST CALL?!!!”

There are 2 ways to deal with most ‘problems’. One is to stop making it a problem by either defeating it entirely or learning to manage it. The second is to continue letting it be a problem by either denying it or running from it. In numerical terms at least, it’s easier to run from one big thing, even if it ends up being a huge problem and a very stupid decision.

I spent my childhood thinking of myself as stupid. I won’t get into why right now, but it wasn’t until diabetes that I started believing in myself as capabel of outsmarting anyone or anything, fireworks being the exception. This is mostly beacuse of the ridiculous, devious, and creative approaches I took to tricking my family, the nurses at my school, even my blood sugar meter that my numbers were in the ‘good’ range. It wasn’t until I would get routine bloodwork done at the hospital, the hemoglobin A1C test required of diabetics, that it was clear how bad my 3-month average sugars truly were.

And this is where the name of my company comes from. Well, technically, it’s an Agnes DeMille quote, but the sentment to me is in the truth of the body- the evidence of our choices, our character, our deceit, our work ethic, our agency, our actions. I don’t think of the body as a translucent window to the soul, more as tangible, undeniable evidence of our abilities to take care of the most mechanical tasks, which sometmes prove to be the hardest. Getting those tests was always a rude awakening, a forced confrontation to the denail I lived in, the probems I was running from, and my own cowardice.

I think this is one reason why I hate technology. I feel like certain things should just function automatically, like my body. Even though the tools available to diabetics are such a blessing compared to what was around 20 years ago, I still long for life pre-diabetes, when I didn’t need a machine or tech or medicine at all. I still think of my diabetes as ‘not-normal’, even though I’ve been living with it for almost 20 years. I have the feeling that my resistance to new technology is similar to my distaste for change in other areas of my life.

A ghost of my former self- Dancing with a disability

I really enjoyed my discussion with Alicia and am working on using sound bytes in the show. It was interesting to hear her take on what is ‘normal’, since she was diagnosed at 2 when I was 15, and how comforatble or uncomfrotabel we felt making our diabetes visible through a devices like a pump, or simply known to employers, classmates, ourselves. We had such extermely differenc expereinces hrough the same ‘problem’, despite both being #CoolSmartNiceNewYorkBasedDiabeticDancers.

OK, the smart part is subjective in my case

When I’m working with Alicia in rehearsal, I don’t look at her and think ‘diabetic dancer’. Occasionally I will see the monitor on her arm and be reminded for a second that she has the same problem that I deal with. And then I see her dancing. I am equally impressed with her incredible talent as I am with her ability to make a daily challenge part of her normal, to deal with the problems that diabetes gives us like one little orc at a time, but to continue moving forward. For her, the management is normal and not a problem, even if it is a nuisance.

Everyone has different tests, different monsters to deal with. When we talk about authenticity, I think we’re talking about what is ‘normal’ for us. I mean the things we try to convince ourselves of, really knowing yourself inside and out down to the cellular level. This is the technical upgrade I am working on with myself, to maybe stop lying to myself since the body won’t allow me to do so anyways.

This was apparently my biggest fear in 2010 when I first started this blog. This is my biggest fear

I think I wrote this as an attempt to learn not what is possible despite being diabetic, but what can be normal and is possible because of it, as if the things that make us different are actually enhancements. Is there some future world where instead of a weakness, it can be a weapon?

I’m looking for that answer.

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