[FOUNTAIN]Remember Ms. Kang’s feetJapanese call Haraichi Hei “the God of sales,” and when he gave a lecture at the age of 69, a man in the audience asked about his sales secret. Without hesitating, Mr. Haraichi took his socks off and told the man to feel his feet. The man who asked the question felt the sole of Mr. Hei’s foot and was startled at how hard the calluses were. Said Mr. Haraichi: “I just walked and ran around more than anyone else.”
The most celebrated feet in Korea are those of Kang Sue-jin, the principal dancer at Stuttgart Ballet. A photo of Ms. Kang’s feet is so shocking that it is hard to believe they are human ― broken toenails, distorted bones, a crushed big toe. But the strangely deformed feet inspire many people.
Her fans say Ms. Kang’s feet inspire them want to pray. Ms. Kang was the first Asian to win the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition in 1985 and became the principal dancer with Stuttgart in 1993.
In 1999 she was awarded the Prix Benois de la Dance, the most prestigious honor in ballet.
Ms. Kang rose to international fame not by chance, but with hard work.
She continued her hectic training routine, practicing at least 15 hours ― sometimes as many as 19 hours ― a day. She wore out shoes in just days, shoes that would last weeks for other ballerinas.
Her feet were often sweaty and covered with blisters. Her toenails peeled off all the time, and the skin was inflamed and bled. The wounds would not easily heal and festered. When she took off the pointe shoes, she felt her flesh burning, with blood, pus and flesh coagulating. In order to ease the pain, she used to put slices of beef between her toes.
When she opened her eyes in the morning, the first thing she felt was the physical pain.
She confessed that sometimes she would not feel soreness and then she would think, “Why don’t I feel pain? Maybe I did not practice hard enough.”
She has been visiting Seoul recently and donated a pair of her favorite shoes to an auction. The auction ends on Sept. 4, and the money goes to educating young ballerinas. A mold of her famous right foot has been cast, and a bronze sculpture is to be exhibited. Ms. Kang is devoted to training ballerinas. The government announced its Vision 2030, a project for future talents. But there are no clear plans to finance 2030.
If 2030 ends up as mostly empty words, Koreans can take one more look at the feet of Ms. Kang to find inspiration and passion for life.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.