Chances are, when you think of Christmas, one of the first things that comes to mind is the whimsical Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker- it’s almost as natural as Christmas trees and roasting chestnuts. This holiday season, Ballet in Cleveland’s director Jessica Wallis decided to confer with a real Sugar Plum Fairy for a look into the famous ballet role, as well as to glean some “sweet” advice, applicable the whole year ’round.
Enjoy our interview with Zippora Karz, former soloist with the New York City Ballet who danced the role of The Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker for many of her 16 years with the company.
JW: Zippora, you danced as The Sugar Plum Fairy for the entirety of your career, and you and I have talked about how special that role was for you. Can you share what made you connect with that role so strongly?
ZK: The Sugar Plum Fairy was one of my favorite roles. I first danced it when I was twenty when Peter Martins (New York City Ballet Master in-Chief) selected me from the Corps de Ballet to perform it for the first time. I danced it for the remainder of my career, for 14 more years.
I loved the generosity of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s role. When you dance a certain role, it gives you the opportunity to experience feelings and qualities that are within yourself, that you would like to experience more of, even off the stage. When I danced Sugar Plum, I admired how she felt love for each and everyone in her kingdom, regardless of who they were. Everyone in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s kingdom had a place, and they were all loved and all special.
JW: Well Zippora, you certainly do have all of the beauty and generosity of the Sugar Plum Fairy! The title of your book, The Sugarless Plum, published in 2009, obviously plays upon the Sugar Plum theme. Can you tell us more about where the title “The Sugarless Plum” came from?
ZK: Well, the Sugar Plum Fairy lives in the land of the sweets, and everything in her kingdom is made of sugar. As I started dancing the role more and I was working through managing my diabetes, I would say, ‘I’m the Sugarless Plum,’ because I was the Sugar Plum Fairy presiding over the Kingdom of Sweets, and I couldn’t eat sugar!
JW: What were your goals with publishing The Sugarless Plum? How has the book impacted your life and the lives of others?
ZK: For me, when I wrote the book, I hoped that in some way by sharing my story I could help others, even if just one person, have an easier time in pursuing their dreams despite life’s obstacles. It took me many years to learn how to manage my diabetes and not quit dancing. I wanted to help people find answers and not have to struggle in the same ways I did. Since writing the book, many people have contacted me and have shared their stories with me, and they have told me that because I was able to do what I did that they have been inspired to do so, too. I have such incredible connections with people who all are finding meaning and passion in their lives. My mission is to see that people can live their dreams with good health, and live a healthy life of meaning and passion. Even with diabetes, or whatever the health challenge, we can live full, healthy and passionate lives. My book has connected me with dancers and non-dancers alike, we all want meaningful lives, and taking care of our health is a means to do that.
JW: I saw first-hand your work coaching Beckah while you were in Cleveland in June. You spoke to her a lot about diet. What advice do you have for people regarding healthy eating habits, especially at the holidays when it seems like we are all surrounded by sugar and unhealthy eating options?
ZK: I think at the holidays, it’s all about indulgence, and trying not to over indulge. My advice is, try to go for foods that are healthy alternatives. For example if you’re craving sweets or chocolate, eat dark chocolate instead which is less sweet and is an antioxidant. When the body is deprived of nutrients it will stay hungry. But when the food is nourishing to the body you will feel satiated. So the odds are you will eat less and feel satiated when you choose healthier alternatives. During the holidays, I make the extra effort to make meals for myself that are really nourishing and are a treat for me. It’s worth it to go the distance to find real foods that your body craves. Identify your craving, and then find the healthiest alternative. For example, I make meals for myself that satisfy my need for rich and fatty foods, but still are healthy and nourishing. I eat nuts, seeds, and avocados every day. These foods are rich and high in fat, but are extremely healthy. I also love coconut. I will cook vegetables in coconut butter, which is like comfort food to me. I get the coconut taste that I love without all of the sugar. If I’m craving something sweet, I might use some Stevia, a healthy sweetener, or coconut flakes or even fennel seeds, which almost have a black licorice taste to them. My advice to someone who loves sweets might be to again, identify the craving and find the most healthy alternative.
Something to keep in-mind is that the holidays often leave us feeling like we need comfort foods and that we need to feel satiated. It’s a high-stress, high-emotion, busy time. The weather gets cold and it gets dark earlier, so we all end up feeling like we want to be comforted and like we need to indulge, and many people look to food to satisfy these needs. Instead of turning to unhealthy choices that are high in calories and sugar that often leave us feeling over-full or make us crash off a sugar-high, go the extra distance to think about what your body really needs and to make meals that nourish you rather than just seemingly satisfy a craving…
And when you’re at a holiday party tempted by something you shouldn’t eat, don’t make the mistake of taking that first bite, as junk food is designed to be addictive and that “one bite” will never just be one!
And we couldn’t have Zippora in Cleveland “just once.” She will be returning to Cleveland in April 2014 to work with local dance schools. If you would like Ballet in Cleveland to host Zippora at your dance school for a ballet master class, or to book her to speak about her story of managing diabetes while maintaining a career as a professional dancer, email us at email@example.com. You can learn more about Zippora at www.zipporakarz.com.