Prima ballerina Kang Sue-jin holds a copy of her autobiography ahead of an autograph signing session at the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, Saturday. / Yonhap
By Do Je-hae
Kang Sue-jin is more than a prima ballerina. Uniquely for an artist, the Korean public has embraced her as a national hero and many young women in their 20s perceive her as a role model.
The longtime principal of Germany's Stuttgart Ballet arrived in Seoul on Jan. 19 to promote her first autobiography "I Do Not Wait For Tomorrow," sharing the story of how a young girl from Korea moved to Monaco by herself at 13 for ballet training and eventually became a star at one of the most prestigious ballet companies in Europe.
A photography book of her was published in 2004 but this is the first time Kang is sharing her life story in her own words.
A recent book tour included an autograph session at the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul on Saturday and a couple of talks where she stressed the importance of perseverance and consistency as key ingredients for professional excellence.
"After becoming a dancer, I have never missed a single day of practice in the last 30 years. There were days when I didn't feel like it but even on those days I would practice, even if it was just for ten minutes," Kang said during a talk for teenagers and their parents at the Sungnak Evangelical Holiness Church in Seongdong-gu, Seoul, on Jan. 26.
At 46, Kang is well past retirement age for a prima ballerina. Despite her unrivaled achievements, she was a late starter and endured many years in the corps de ballet before she danced solos for her company.
"When I started ballet, I didn't have big dreams. As I began dancing five to six years later than most of my peers, I practiced more. I got up early and danced late into the night," Kang said. She advised youngsters to "make steady efforts toward their goals."
Kang also gave a speech at JW Pharmaceutical in Seocho-dong, Monday, urging more than 300 office workers to focus solely on the present rather than the past or future. "Doing one's best right now is the most important attitude in life," Kang said. Kang will visit Korea next year for a performance of "Madame Butterfly" which will be choreographed by Cuban dancer and ballet director Enrique Gasa Valga.
Kang will also serve as a promotional ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in PyeongChang, Gangwong Province.
Kang entered the Stuttgart Ballet at 17, becoming the youngest member in the history of the company and the first Asian to join. She is now one of eight female principals at the major European company, particularly renowned for the legacy of legendary choreographer John Cranko (1927-1973).
She was also the first Asian laureate of the Prix de Lausanne. Among her many honors and achievements she was named "Kammertanzerin" or chamber dancer, the highest recognition the German government bestows on an artist and the was the first Asian to receive the appointment.
Her interpretation of the tragic role of Marguerite Gautier, a Parisian courtesan in 19th century, in "The Lady of the Camellias" earned her the prestigious "Prix Benois de la Danse" in 1999.
She is an inspiration to young Korean ballerinas and dancers like Seo Hee and Kim Ki-min have followed in her footsteps by taking top prizes at international competitions and joining iconic companies like the American Ballet Theatre and the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.