PHOTOS BY Virginia Lazar, William Neill, Matt Sconce, Susan Crowell

What It’s Like To Be a Ballerina with Type 1


I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during my sophomore year of high school, which was the biggest year for my dance career so far. By the time I was diagnosed, I already knew I was diabetic because I knew what to look out for ahead of time. I started on four insulin shots a day and was testing my blood sugar 6+ times a day. The first month getting back into dance after I was diagnosed was somewhat difficult because I wasn’t used to lows during exercise or having to eat at specific times of the day.TanaNeill1

I had to learn how to semi-manipulate my blood sugars so I wouldn’t go low during dance.

I learned that if my blood sugar was a bit higher than normal before class, it wouldn’t go low as fast as it would if I had been normal during class. That helped me rehearse for longer periods of time without having to take breaks. My rehearsals ran pretty late during the day so I had to figure out when would be the best time to take a break and eat. I got pretty good at keeping my blood sugars under control during dance after a few months of being diabetic. All my dance friends were very supportive and accepting of my condition and I even found out that one of the company members I danced with was also diabetic. She helped me a lot with managing my condition during performances and competitions.


About five months after being diagnosed, my dance team and I went to Disneyland to perform at a competition. For some reason, my blood sugars would not stay normal. They would go from 5.5 mmol/L100 mg/dL to 2.5 mmol/L45 mg/dL within an hour.

At the end of the competition my friends and I were celebrating our win when I passed out from a blood sugar of 1.3 mmol/L23 mg/dL.

I was unconscious for three days and was in the hospital for almost two weeks after I woke up. That is when my doctor and I thought it would be best to get an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Having both has helped me because I can stop lows in their tracks—which again means I can dance for longer periods of time without taking breaks.

During my senior year of high school, I decided to put on a play about a dancer who becomes diabetic so I could educate my town about diabetes. I wrote the script myself, choreographed the dances, directed and acted in this production. It definitely brought a lot of awareness about diabetes to my community because I busted myths about diabetes in the play as well as showing people what it’s really like to be diabetic.

When it comes to performances, I check my blood sugar around 6+ times—regardless of what my CGM tells me.

I also try to eat as clean as I can for two weeks leading up to a performance. I love salads with pine nuts and balsamic vinegar. I also try to keep my blood sugar around 11.1 mmol/L200 mg/dL (10.0 mmol/L180 mg/dL being normal for me) because I don’t go low that quickly. I always keep water, my meter, pump and Annie’s Gummies backstage so I can test between scenes of a ballet.

I have never let diabetes stop me and I never will.

Since being diagnosed three years ago, I have won first place overall at four national dance competitions, originated a role in a new ballet and joined a pre-professional ballet company. I am currently in my first year of college, studying to become a psychotherapist. If you would like to learn more about my life as a ballerina you can check out my blog. My name is Tara and this is how I live beyond!

WRITTEN BY Tara Neill, POSTED 11/12/15, UPDATED 09/20/22

Tara is 18 years old and a freshman in college. She has been a person with type 1 diabetes since age 15. She started dancing when she was 5, but started training only in classical ballet when she turned 8. Besides ballet, Tara loves acting, body art, Broadway, medical TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and helping dancers through the form of her blog Dancing Through Life (