Profiles

Footloose And Sugar-Free

With a hip-shake and some hustle, cabaret performer Amanda Lynne powers through Type 1 diabetes to keep dance center stage.

With a hip-shake and some hustle, cabaret performer Amanda Lynne powers through Type 1 diabetes to keep dance center stage.

When professional burlesque dancer and cabaret performer Amanda Lynne was a teenager, she postponed being admitted to the hospital to attend a dance class.

Lynne, then age 14, had been diagnosed with diabetes at her pediatrician’s office on a Friday. The following Monday, Lynne met with an endocrinologist who shared the results of her pediatrician’s blood test: when measured, her blood sugar was nine times higher than what it should have been.

Alarming as the number was, it was already three days old. By the time Lynne met with the endocrinologist that Monday, her blood sugar had risen to such an extreme that doctors couldn’t even get a reading.

Amanda Lynne stands in of her Samba costumes in the Calabasas Village Club House. Photo: Marcia Garcia

“I was given a shot of insulin,” Lynne says, “to keep me from going into a diabetic coma. I was told that my blood sugar was so high I could possibly be dead in a few hours without insulin.”

The endocrinologist urged Lynne to check into the hospital for care and observation, fearing insulin shots alone might not be enough to avert coma — or worse. Lynne asked him if she could go home first and take a shower.

“And instead I put on my ballroom dance attire and went to a ballroom dance class,” she says. “I basically had told them, If I was going to die, I was going to die on the dance floor.”

It’s tempting to chalk Lynne’s priorities up to the youthful indiscretion of a fourteen-year-old. But two decades later, Lynne admits with a laugh, “I still feel the same way.”

A resident of Los Angeles and lifelong Californian, Lynne had wanted to be a dancer since she was a toddler. Initially inspired by a televised performance of The Nutcracker starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, Lynne started watching classic movie musicals, including the work of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. At age 2, her fate was instantly sealed. “I was like, I want to do that,” she says. “That was it for me.”

Lynne made her professional debut at age 12, performing at a Bar Mitzvah with an entertainment company that thought she “would be a great party entertainer.” Paid dancing gigs at small venues soon followed, including a can-can performance at a birthday party for former child star and Juvenile Oscar Award-winner Margaret O’Brien. By 15, Lynne had become a professional dance instructor and California’s youngest professional competitive ballroom dancer.

Photo: Cesar Vazquez

Photo: Cesar Vazquez

Now in her early 30s, Lynne continues to perform a wide variety of dance styles, including a style of cabaret that brings her love for old Hollywood, vaudeville, and the Ziegfeld Follies together under the name “cabaretro.” (Cabaretro is also her burlesque name.) Lynne also models and runs the cheekily named Sugar-Free Entertainment, her performance company providing dancers of all kinds — burlesque, ballroom, swing, samba, go-go — and related entertainers like jugglers and magicians to public and private events.

Her company name started out as a joke. When she was first launching the company, Lynne, who is a Type 1 diabetic, was working with a director and a producer who each happened to be Type 2 diabetics. “We were ready to open our show,” she says, “and we needed a name for the company. We were all putting stevia in our iced tea at the time, and I was like, ‘Oh, sugar-free entertainment!’” She laughs. “And they loved it.”

As her business name suggests, diabetes is as much a part of Lynne’s identity as dance is. Her email handle, in fact, is “thediabeticdancer.” But while dance is a calling, diabetes to her is simply a matter of fact. Not something to be celebrated necessarily, but not to be stigmatized either.

From the start, Lynne was cautioned that there might be times she would be afraid to talk about her condition or be embarrassed by it — warnings she never quite understood. “Why would I be embarrassed?” she asks. “This is something you just deal with. Other than a few things, it really doesn’t make anybody that much different than anybody else.”

“Why would I be embarrassed? This is something you just deal with.”

As a Type 1 diabetic, Lynne’s body doesn’t produce a sufficient amount of insulin, a hormone needed to regulate blood sugar. To keep her blood sugar levels in check, a Type 1 diabetic must either take regular insulin injections or use an insulin pump, a device about the size of an old-school pager that delivers insulin automatically through a needle in the stomach. Lynne opted for the former for numerous reasons, both medical and professional. Two practical reasons to avoid the pump: it doesn’t fit well with her body-hugging costumes, and it’s easy to bump.

“Any time that you are doing any kind of active dancing and are working with a partner,” she says, “you are risking hitting the site that’s going to have that pump.” Plus, she says, someone has yet to invent an insulin pump that’s “fashion-proof,” at least not as far as her revealing costumes are concerned. “Even with the modeling, that’s just not possible.”

Decades of insulin injections, however, have led to scarring, bruising, and lumps on Lynne’s stomach and legs, issues she addresses with body makeup and costuming whenever possible.

Lynne actually designs and creates her own costumes, both for herself and for her dancers, incorporating vintage beads, sequins, and broken jewelry from original costumes of classic Hollywood royalty like Mae West and Marlene Dietrich that, she says, can’t be archived anymore due to age or damage. By mixing these vintage bits and pieces with modern-day glitz and feathers, Lynne carries her nostalgia for old Hollywood onto the stage with her. Which is a far more fabulous accessory than an insulin pump.

No one has yet invented an insulin pump that’s “fashion-proof” as far as revealing costumes are concerned, says Lynne. Photo: Pete Ibarra

Keeping blood sugar on an even keel — not too high, not too low — requires balancing diet, physical activity, and even the stage of one’s menstrual cycle with insulin intake. It’s a delicate dance for anyone without adding strenuous exercise, late-night performances, and costume strategies to the mix. You’d think it must be difficult to rely on your body for your livelihood when your body is such a challenge to deal with.

But funny enough, Lynne is able to keep such a tight rein on her diabetes because she relies on her body for her livelihood. And vice versa. Much of what she needs to do to keep her diabetes in check — regular exercise, a “very, very, very strict” diet, routine — are also the things she needs to do to maintain her career. Just like any other professional performing athlete.

“It’s really nothing unusual as long as you are in control of what you’re doing, and you have a pattern,” Lynne says, “Just like every dancer is conditioned or every athlete, it’s the same thing with the diabetes. It’s just really that discipline. I don’t feel like my life is any different than any other dancer, other than the fact that I take an insulin shot.

She’s not unrealistic: Lynne recognizes that her condition can create extra complication at times, and there have been a handful of jobs she’s had to turn down because their circumstances would make eating or medicating difficult. But a change in occupation has certainly never been on the table. In addition to fulfilling her lifelong dream, dance is what Lynne credits for keeping her alive, healthy, and strong.

As far back as her diagnosis, in fact, she’d discovered that dancing, as a form of cardio exercise, helped improve her condition. Having left the endocrinologist that Monday for that illicit ballroom class, Lynne discovered when she returned to check herself in that night that “my blood sugar had lowered by the time I got back.”

Because their relationship is so symbiotic, she says, “both the dancing and the diabetes, I think, have been more a blessing to me than a curse.”