The Sugarless Plum by Zippora Karz
Insightful and fascinating autobiography of a prima ballerina,
November 25, 2009
Although Zippora was amazingly talented and was dancing her dream, her life was anything but easy. Her technique, passion, intensity, and perfectionism -- all part of the work ethic that a truly disciplined ballerina needs to have -- got her noticed and cast in many of the company's ballets at that time. The incredible class, rehearsal and performance schedule began to take its toll, however, and when Zippora first started experiencing symptoms of thirst, excessive urination, extreme hunger, sores that wouldn't heal, exhaustion and muscle fatigue -- she thought that's all it was -- overwork. Despite her denial that anything medically was wrong, Zippora did finally obtain blood work that provided her with a diagnosis of diabetes -- but, because she was 21 years old at the time, the doctor mistakenly assumed it was Type II rather than Type I DM and Zippora did not initially receive the correct treatment regimen. She went through years of illness but danced on despite her failing health and her dangerous blood sugar fluctuations. She tried all types of special diets, insulin injection (guesswork), homeopathic treatmets, and many other remedies until finally meeting the physician who would help her learn to control her diabetes and balance her exercise, diet, and insulin needs. After getting her blood sugar within normal limits, Zippora was able to continue her work with the NYCB and retired after having performed many incredible roles with the company. Her triumph over diabetes was made even more complete when she took on the roles of educator, advocate, and speaker for those affected with the incurable disease.
I liked this book particularly for the glimpse it gave into the heart and soul of a prima ballerina. The life sounds romantic and fantastic, but behind the scenes we see that the passion to dance must be translated into many hours of hard, grueling work in order to present the beauty of ballet that is seen on stage. To be a dancer on that level requires determination, self control, and discipline -- not to mention incredible physical strength and endurance.
I'd recommend this book to any aspiring dancer just for the descriptions of the life of a ballerina, but also to any young person who is diagnosed with diabetes. The book is a testament to Zippora Karz's ability to use her life experiences as a way to inspire and encourage others to dream big and to achieve physical and emotional balance -- with or without the threat of serious illness.