Anyone in Malibu with a serious interest in ballet knows sisters Zippora Karz and Romy Karz Rapoport. Both grew up in Los Angeles, attended the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York and became professional ballerinas with the New York City Ballet, where they performed for years—the older Zippora from 1983 to 1999 and Romy from 1986 to 1995.
A number of people say the period when the sisters performed featured some of the finest performances from the New York City Ballet. George Balanchine, a Russian choreographer considered by many to be a genius, founded the program and revolutionized the way ballet was performed.
"Balanchine brought a more modern twist that's still relevant today," Zippora said. "The story became the music and the dancers. [Ballet] became more plot-less with fewer costumes."
The sisters say the years they performed in New York were inspiring.
"The effect of being around live, working geniuses and being part of it was a direct influence on us and what we now pass on as teachers," Zippora said. "It's a dream to dance the kind of choreography that transforms you and to be able to perform it live. We're both so blessed to have had so many years to experience it. To be part of that legacy is extraordinary."
The sisters' grandmother was a dancer in vaudeville and their mother was a modern dancer who attended Juilliard. For a period of time, the family lived in Thailand, where the girls took Thai dance. After returning to Los Angeles, they began their dance study in earnest with a talented teacher, Sheila Rozann.
"Mom found an extraordinary teacher," Zippora said. "She loved dance so much and she had learned from Balanchine. Starting at age 11, we spent our summers in dance programs. Then, at the School of American Ballet in New York, we were asked to stay on as winter students and our mother understood [and allowed it]."
Recalling the special school, Zippora said, "We had a very regimented lifestyle between the academic classes and the ballet. We were so passionate about what we did. Those of us who were serious became professional ballerinas at age 18. There's very little room to slack off."
Romy added, "I think there's a tremendous sense of connectedness. My sister is my best friend, so there wasn't the isolation or the loneliness of leaving home."
Like professional athletes, ballerinas tend to have relatively short careers. When Romy was no longer performing on stage, she got married and came to Malibu, where her grandmother had a house. Zippora followed a few years later and initially stayed with their mother in Point Dume. Both have made new lives for themselves here.
Romy and Zippora teach ballet locally, usually as private instructors working in private residences in Malibu. Although the sisters have stopped short of opening their own ballet studio, they frequently rent space for classes from and elsewhere, where they teach all age groups. Romy and Zippora say they teach some of the same students, and sometimes refer students to each other.
"We're both very selective in who we teach," Romy said. "I love teaching the adults and every age as long as they really want to be there; getting them to be healthy and feel comfortable in their bodies."
The sisters also have their own clients and interests. Romy has been named an Artist in Residence by the Malibu Friends of Music and her private lessons at the Friends' are referred to as the "Karz School of Dance."
"She has an unbelievable strength and bearing and presence; and communicates that really well to our kids,” said Friends director Scott Hosfeld. "There's also a gentleness about her teaching that brings the kids in."
Romy serves as a professional guest teacher for annual "Dance in Flight" performances, where she teaches master classes and assists student dancers with choreography. Also, she has found a new direction in life as a certified childbirth educator, pre- and post-natal yoga instructor, lactation specialist and labor doula. Romy is passionate about building a network of support for Malibu's new families with her venture Mother Nurture Birth by offering childbirth classes and related consultation.
Zippora travels extensively for the New York-based George Balanchine Trust, which licenses Balanchine's 400 copyrighted ballets and ensures his artistic standards are upheld. As a "repetiteur," she teaches classes at various schools and ballet companies, stages the work and sees it through to the premiere.
She also travels in her role as a motivational speaker and educator to various diabetes events and fundraisers. Her memoir The Sugarless Plum was published in 2009 and is now available in paperback. It details her struggles as an insulin-dependent diabetic during a 16-year career as a professional ballerina.