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Diabetes doesn't dampen teen's enthusiasm for ballet

Diabetes doesn't dampen teen's enthusiasm for ballet

Hannah Barnes, a 14-year-old dancer from Clifton Park who battles daily with diabetes, is gearing up
Diabetes doesn't dampen teen's enthusiasm for ballet
Hannah Barnett rehearses for the Nutcracker at Ginger&rsquo;s Dance-to-Fit studio in Malta on a recent Saturday afternoon.
Photographer: Barry Sloan

MALTA — With one foot pointed into the floor, Hannah Barnett flicks her hip and flashes a giant smile. She then turns and leaps with the finesse and poise of a budding ballerina. And that’s when you notice it — the insulin pump bouncing off her dance shorts. The diabetic 14-year-old keeps it attached to her hip, keeping her blood sugar levels in line.

It’s necessary, as this teen from Clifton Park is active. She takes ballet classes three times a week at Ginger’s Dance-To-Fit. And that commitment to dance includes annual appearances in the Malta Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” This is her ninth year in Malta’s expanded version of the holiday ballet. And this time around, Barnett will dance in the first act as a rat. And then in the second, she’ll appear in the Scottish highland trio, as well as the traditional Waltz of the Flowers. And that’s on top of running track at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany, where she attends school.

Ginger Morris, director of the Malta Ballet, which dances Saturday at The Egg, has brought Barnett up through the ranks. From mouse, to angel, to clown, to snowflake, Morris has watch with pride Barnett’s progress. Last winter, Morris selected her for the lead role of Clara in “The Nutcracker.” And this year, in addition to her three parts, Barnett is the company’s poster ballerina.

“Isn’t she beautiful,” said Morris as she shows off Barnett’s portrait in blue.

Indeed, she is. But to dance each year with the Malta Ballet, Barnett has to take precautions. Before entering into an evening of rehearsals, she and her mother, Angela Barnett, talk about the issues of dancing with type 1 diabetes.

Q: How did you know you had diabetes?

A: I was sick and wetting the bed. My parents brought me to the doctor at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. I was 7. When then told me, I was pretty scared. I didn’t know what it was or what to do. Three months after I was diagnosed, I got the insulin pump. I always wear it, except when it shows with my costume.

Q: How does diabetes affect your dancing?

A: It doesn’t. I just have to check my blood sugar, and I keep a bottle of juice right off the side of the stage.

Angela: She has problems with her toes.

A: Yeah. I have to wear an ouch pouch and I soak my pointe shoes so my toes don’t hurt. I have to eat a lot of protein, too.

Q: Last year, you danced Clara. You’re onstage the whole time. How did you manage your blood sugar?

A: When I would run off for a costume change, I’d check my blood sugar. I have to prick my finger. But I usually know when my blood sugar is low because I feel weak and my vision gets blurry.

It was a lot of pressure to be Clara. Miss Ginger kept pushing me. But it was so much fun.

Q: What role haven’t you done in ‘The Nutcracker’ that you look forward to?

A: The snow crystals. I’ve been a snow flake, but not a snow crystal. I want to do the Polish dance, too.

Q: What do you like about dancing in ‘The Nutcracker?’

A: It’s fun to dance. I like the Scottish because you get to move your hips. You get to let out your personality. I also don’t think about how many years in high school I have. I count off the years by thinking about how many more ‘Nutcrackers’ I have. I have three more ‘Nutcrackers’ left. I like all the energy and work we put into ‘Nutcracker.’

When we go on stage, no matter what happens, I know we have done our best. If we make a mistake, we can’t fix it. But that’s OK because it’s a good feeling to be dancing.

Q: So you will continue dancing?

A: Yes, I want to dance through college, but not as a career. When I dance, everything comes alive inside of me. If it wasn’t a great day, after I dance, I feel in a great mood.

And I like dancing here. Everyone knows each other. They know how you are feeling, what’s going on. It’s a great feeling to be somewhere that is so nice and welcoming.

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