Ever since she was a little girl (with type 1 diabetes), Elizabeth Forrest has had a passion for dancing. And at only 11 years old, she had an idea to combine that love with awareness and fundraising for diabetes.
a twenty-something in Central Florida, Elizabeth started her program almost two years before, and it’s evolved into a full non-profit organization called Dancing For Diabetes.
Along with their yearly year-end series, the org offers free dance courses for T1D kids and adolescents, year-round activities for families, and many recently launched a fresh Touched By Type 1 convention focused on women’s problems in diabetes.
We believe Elizabeth fits perfectly into our “Beautiful Adventures” series here at the ‘Mine, and she certainly deserves props — and of course congrats on her recent marriage in May! This young lady has rather a great deal of awesomeness going on, and we’re excited to share her story now.
Q&A with Beautiful D-Advocate Elizabeth Forrest
DM) First, can you share your investigation story?
EF) Back in 1999 I was 10 years old and diagnosed with type 1 after being out of school sick for a month. And me being sick as a child was very odd, since I never got sick and even when I had the sniffles, I struggled my parents to go to school even though they would need me to stay home and rest. So that was a strange time and also a red flag. Following a month of symptoms and my family not knowing what it was doctors saying it was a cold, I was eventually diagnosed. I was the only one in the household, though at the time my paternal grandparents had type 2 diabetes which was our only understanding.
Later on, my dad explained that his initial true reaction to my T1 identification was, “How do Elizabeth have diabetes? She is nothing like my father” — talking about him being elderly, overweight, and not healthy — once I was a 10-year-old, 20-pound underweight child who never cared to eat sweets. This was the type of understanding of diabetes my entire family had at the moment.
This was at the fifth grade, and the following year I was going to a performing arts center school and everything took more shape with dancing.
You were so young… Can you talk about your early years in dancing?
I began when I was young and loved it, and once in high school it became much more intense as my dance group is one which is extremely well-known from the dancing world. Going off to college, my perspective began to change. I would go to dancing contests to watch and observe and support the groups, and began having a lot more of an eye on the manufacturing side — placing the shows on, becoming involved in lighting and sound and sound. The overall experience of this series became more of my attention.
Dance is such a great art form to have the ability to express themselves. Dancers can be unbelievably creative and it’s certainly a sport, one which is not an easy undertaking and is a great deal of sweat and athleticism goes into being a dancer. My love for dancing grew as I got older, and I love visiting various performances. Watching them arouses ideas in me for future productions, and it’s just so enjoyable and inspirational to watch — particularly with Dancing for Diabetes at which these 350 dancers come together for a single night.
How did For Diabetes begin?
At the middle school dance department, we place on a small functionality for our parents, at a really beautiful new theatre which was only constructed to fit 500 people.
That is when I thought: Why can’t we place on our very own display? We’d do exactly the identical thing where it’s dance routine after dancing routine for parents and friends, then we can charge a couple bucks and send the money to one of the great diabetes associations. I was 11 at the time (in 2000) and we were home for the summer.
I brought it up to my parents and found the email address for my school principal, and he loved the idea and suggested that when school was back in session, we can discuss it. I’ve got this very vivid memory of sitting in the school conference room with all the high school principal and all these administrators, talking about this idea I had. All the college was really acquainted with me, as my parents did a wonderful job of teaching everyone about type 1 and also what they would need to know. So when they heard my idea, they were so on board with it and we moved forward straight away.
All of that at age 11 — amazing! How was that first year after this was only starting?
We had perhaps 100 people at our first show. That continued, and I went on to high school and the dance group there wanted to participate. Subsequently the dancing studio I was involved with wanted to be involved also. It all grew from there. As soon as I began this at middle school, and continued it through high school and college, this was all on the side for a fun hobby. My household has, naturally, been very supportive and involved. I went to the University of Florida at Gainesville, so a few hours away from home, but’m still putting the series on at the Fall.
Fast forward many years and now here we are today — we had our 16th yearly show this past November, and also the past several years we’ve sold out our theatre of 850 chairs in advance.
Wow, that is pretty cool! Could you explain the series itself?
Now, we have 350 dancers in the series and counting everybody in the market, volunteers and production, it’s over 1200-1300 people present.
The series is kind of Broadway-style running for two weeks, with intermission between. We’ve Got dancers who’ve gone on to So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, Broadway, Rockettes, and more. These dancers have some unbelievable talent, and it’s very inspirational to see.
We have not publicly announced it yet, but we will soon be moving into a beautiful new theatre in downtown Orlando (instead of being 20 miles north of the city), which will have 2,400 chairs to accommodate the fact that we’ve been selling out. We could have more people attend, raise more money and simply reach more people.
Do the dancers have type 1?
Perhaps not all of these. There are several in the various dance groups which do have type 1, but for the most part they don’t — which I believe is really interesting. Many have been performing in our series for years and their link to diabetes has been being portion of the show. It really did begin with the groups I danced, and spread through word of mouth throughout the dancing community — and I think that it’s inspirational in itself which they have assembled this link to something they don’t personally dwell.
What’s diabetes component of the show?
In the very start of the series, I do a fast intro welcoming everybody and talking a little about diabetes. I try to be up there for perhaps 4 minutes, since it’s really the series everybody is there for.
Then right after intermission we broadcast a 5-minute diabetes awareness video. We strive to get a different video every year, based around, “That is what diabetes really is.”
Last year, we did something different with that video for the first time. Seconds earlier, we flew out to Utah and met with the Terry Family of Kisses to get Kycie, and did a very touching piece on Kycie’s narrative and strove to get a positive spin as far as you can. It was a more movie and we decided it was worth not cutting out the details, so that way this set of 850 people may see how serious diabetes is and could be. During dress rehearsal, we had all of the 350 dancers watch this — that is not something that I do, but it was a pretty impactful moment which set the tone. It’s the worst-case scenario, but we were here so that no other family has to go through something like this.
It was a big incentive, and after at the movie we have the kids with type 1 emerge since they are always first after intermission. I love these kids, and a lot of them I have known since they were five years old.
I truly believe that if someone loves the experience, they’re more connected to what you’re doing, and… they’ll be interested and recorded enough to come back.
How can you browse the dancers’ own diabetes during the series?
There is awareness that happens backstage, for sure.
The dancers with diabetes have their apparatus and their procedures all checked out backstage before going out on stage, to ensure they are OK. We have all the kids test 30 minutes ahead, and watch their CGMs, with a few chaperones backstage who also track their apparatus. We place the kids with diabetes at the room right behind the stage, so it’s a fast walk out to perform.
For those dancers who are not at the kids’ courses but have type 1, their groups learn more about diabetes to assist watch for warning signs — so it creates another chance to meet our aims of spreading awareness.
Do you contribute money to some specific diabetes groups or triggers?
Yes, for many years, funds were donated to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). For the past couple of decades, we’ve been devoting to the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Florida Diabetes Camp, in addition to financing our very own programming of Dancing for Diabetes year-round.
Everything really started evolving once you graduated from college…?
I went to a Master’s program in Orlando in Public Administration, and began a project as well. So it was in 2011 I began taking it to a completely new level. It began truly growing, selling out every year and that is when I applied to become a 501(c)3 non-profit, raising a lot more money and starting more apps.
I wanted it for a whole-year encounter, since people with diabetes live with it 24/7. We’re now offering the kids’ courses, and also travel to diabetes camps in the summer to teach dancing, to the Children With Diabetes Friends For Life Conference the past couple years, and we sponsor summer pursuits and a bowling event at the start of the season for the families to stay connected.
So you do all of this in your “free time”? What do you do professionally?
While I was taking night classes for my Master, I started working at a law firm and have been there now for six decades. I am the company manager, managing human resources and also a great deal of different things. We’re a big, personal injury company with six distinct offices around Central Florida with 180 employees, and I stay very active. I am one of the original employees and the company’s been very supportive of Dancing for Diabetes through recent years.
And today you have enlarged those dancing classes for kids with type 1?
That is our fifth year doing that program. Our program is presently serving kids and this year we are including teens. During the Fall, we have free dance courses for T1D kids and adolescents ages 6 through late adolescents. It’s open for any child or teen with type 1 at Central Florida.
We have course every Saturday, in which the kids learn a routine and perform that through the December series. This is usually an introductory dance course for these, and it’s about connecting with other people who have type 1 at a dance-camp type experience. Every Saturday they have two hours with kids who are like them. The kids are immersed in an environment in which everything about diabetes is normal, and parents get to hang out at a room nearby — where they could connect with other parents going through the similar struggles and becoming that community.
We hear you have also just started a new women’s convention called Touched By Type 1 also…?
We really branched out this past summer, starting this for the first time. Touched By Type 1 was an all-day summit on Saturday, June 24, and we had about 20 speakers and 30 volunteers, and about 70 people attending from all over the country (but largely Central Florida). I have been to other diabetes seminars which are fantastic, but wanted one that was specifically focused on women’s subjects.
We introduced in lovely girls to talk, including Christel Aprigliano, and we covered the entire spectrum from research, technology, exercise, pregnancy, complications and going off to college. And we had performances and singing and dancing also, of course.
Sounds very like that which Diabetes Sisters does with their events… have you had a chance to collaborate with some other groups?
Not yet. We do work with diabetes associations, and CWD on FFL, and I would love to have the ability to get in touch with other people in our area. We’re all doing such great work, and a few things are alike and some different, but the goal of helping and connecting people is something we share.
Beautiful work, Elizabeth! We look forward to hearing more about your dancing and women’s events, and anything else you may have on tap.
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