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Meet Trailblazer Karen Burns

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Burns.

Karen, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
At this point in my life, I teach how to do the things I love. I began dancing when I was 4-years-old after begging and pleading to my mother to take me to a dance class. But, it was only after a doctor recommended that ballet might help my crooked legs, that she finally agreed to take me to our tiny local studio. I wore leg braces until I was about 6 or 7. Stepping into that dance studio for the first time was also the first time my leg braces were removed in public. Moving to the music that poured out of the little record player changed my life.  Dancing and leg braces eventually did straighten out my legs and gave me a chance at a life no one thought was possible.

My first major professional job was as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. I went on to dance and act professionally for about 15 years. I have now taught hundreds of children to listen to the music and if not dance professionally, at least step out a bit more confidently.

I teach jazz, musical theatre, acting, voice, piano and writing. My favorite job teaching jazz and ballet was at a community college in a depressed rural area where I saw first hand the power of dance truly effect change in attitudes, work ethic, and the level of excitement for just being alive.

I still work professionally as an actor, dancer, and writer in Phoenix and sometimes LA, but teaching is the important work, work that has a chance to inspire and make a difference.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, not easy. I sincerely doubt that anyone, ever, has had a smooth road. I do wish I knew then what I know now.

If I had grasped the knowledge that my only competition was the dancer/actor/person I was the day before, it would have saved me the years and years of self-doubt and comparison that kept me from achieving my highest goals. I wasted time and opportunity drowning in insecurity. Starting out with crooked legs left a lasting impression on my perception of my own skills.

It is so difficult, especially for girls and young women, to be secure in who they are, what they look like, how technically skilled they are in comparison to the incredibly beautiful and gifted dancer standing next to them in life or in front of a mirror. Mirrors can either devastate us or build us into the best version of ourselves. As dancers we need mirrors to improve, as teachers our job is to use mirrors wisely to build up and not tear down.

My advice is to pay attention to your own journey and do you best to enjoy the ride. To my own two daughters, I’ve tried to impart. “It’s not where the road leads; it’s what you find along the way.”

In teaching I try to say, “Trust yourself” more than I say, “point your toes or did you practice your scales?” We go further when we trust our educated instincts. Well, I might say point your toes the most…

We’d love to hear more about your work.
As a teacher here in the Phoenix area I mostly train students to become triple threats. I teach musical theatre, voice and acting at various studios and independently through master classes and private sessions. As a choreographer, comedy is probably my strongest medium. I truly believe there is comedy in absolutely everything.

I believe what sets me apart in everything I teach is that I begin all movement or music or piece of acting with the story. Ballet always tells a story, so even plies at the barre need to come from somewhere, I create stories to be danced or to have underneath a song or a concerto at the piano. Honestly, when I began to incorporate comedy into my ballet classes and choreography, the students improved exponentially. Movement must be very specific to be funny, and the dancer must be very seriously doing their best to have clear lines in order for this to work. Plus, it was way more fun, so everyone didn’t know how hard they were working. This might be what I am most proud to have figured out.

Recently, I’ve begun offering master classes in acting for dancers. Dance becomes more impactful when the dancer understands the motivation within each movement. Each movement takes on a deeper significance when it comes from the story instead of, “Well, I was told to leap on 8.”

Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
I found great motivation in the book You Are a Badass by Mel Robbins

I will listen to, or read anything by or about Lin Manuel-Miranda. His creativity and profound intelligence has helped me understand how to create my own projects with less fear and has helped me guide others toward embracing their own creative expression.

Tempo Slo-Mo app is fantastic when music needs to be slower while learning.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Karen Burns

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