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Zippora Karz Featured in "Diabetes Focus"


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There is a small, free quarterly magazine called Diabetes Focus that I found this morning at my local eco-pharmacy. On the cover was a beautiful photograph of Zippora Karz in sousous. There isn't any information about the cover photograph (or the black and white one of Karz in grand jete on the table of contents page), but it looks like it was taken in a grand setting, like a court house. She's wearing a soft tutu -- the top layer is a shimmery, cream-colored, pearlized silk, with a bodice trimmed in gold and lacy, half-cap sleeves. The costume in the jete photo looks like the pink Sugar Plum Fairy dress from the NYCB production.

The article itself, named "grace and will" opens on a wonderful current photo of her wearing a black tank, dark rolled up jeans, and pointe shoes, in croise attitude (on a flat standing foot) atop a huge rock, with hills and rocks in the background. (The photographer is Mark Hamel.) In it Karz recounts her struggle to dance with diabetes at a time when there were no other dancers who had gone public and little expertise on diabetes management for dancers.

She describes receiving the diagnosis (at age 21) at a "truly magical time in the ballet scene: George Balanchine, who founded the NYCB was still alive and creating. Nureyev and Baryshnikov would come in and take classes. And I'd worked so hard to get there." The challenge was to regulate her blood sugar when, "[W]e'd perform a different piece every night. The Nutcracker was the only piece we ever did consistently, and that was a five-week run. So I could never predict how much energy I'd be using one day to the next." After getting conflicting medical advice -- "she eventually realized that her doctors did not understand just how aerobic the activity of a ballerina was" -- Karz created her own approach under the constant pressure "to show that there was nothing really wrong with me." It's remarkable that she was able to give such luminous performances with such little medical support or understanding.

Karz is currently staging ballets for the George Balanchine Foundation and teaching in Southern California.

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Thre's an earlier (2001) interview availble on


which covers similar ground. The article gives Karz's outlines a typical day for an NYCB dancer in relation to the 9 blood sugar tests she performed daily. It also lists the ballets in which she was featured over 16 years.

I am so impressed by the way dedicated dancers can work with -- and transcend --serious, non-dance-related illness.

Of the difficulties, she says:

"The art of ballet is the delicacy of the way you use your toes, your hands and fingers ... With every nuance you have to feel your whole body. If my blood sugars were off, it would interfere with that way to have that vital connection with my body."

"If you have a love for something, it [diabetes] will not stop you. You need to put the care, effort and attention to take care of yourself and then you can do it."

It's wonderful that she continues her work with the Balanchine Trust and that she is willing to serve as a model for younger dancers with the disease.

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