Interview With Dancer/Teacher Karen Gronsky

By Ruth on March 9, 2017 in dance, Interview, movie
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Almost a year ago now, I learned of a fantastic musical film called High Strung, and because of my friendship with director Michael Damian, I have come in contact with some wonderful people. It just so happens that Karen Gronsky is one of those people, and while she is not a “celebrity” in the traditional sense, she is an amazing woman who has accomplished much and inspired many in her career as a dance teacher. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview this talented, sweet, and humble woman, and I’ll let her story speak for itself.

RH: Karen, I’m so glad it worked out to talk to you today.

KG: I’m very excited too, Ruth.

I remember you telling me that you had quite a story about how you became a dance teacher.  I would love to hear that story if you’re willing.

Okay. It’s kind of a long story, but–

That’s okay. 

I was twenty-three. I had been in New York and then went off to California as I was trying to make it as a dancer. I was grinding it out just like everyone. Looking back now, I can see that I didn’t know what it actually took to make it. I just figured that all these good things would happen to me. But I admit that it was hard. Being a young girl and being all alone, trying to make it was way harder than I thought.

When Daddy’s money ran out, I came back home to Pennsylvania. My parents have since passed away, but I’m happy to say that I had great parents that instilled in me a really hard work ethic.  Working was important, and I needed to do it. I was busy trying to travel the world as a dancer, but my dad said, “Hey, you need to get a job and pay rent when you come home.”  I was cool with that, and I thought that was going to be easy too.

Well, I couldn’t find a job. By coincidence, I ran into my first ballet teacher. She said, “Hey, are you back in town? I’m looking for a teacher.” I was like, “Yeah, that’d be great but….” Oh, this is embarrassing, Ruth, I don’t even want to say it. A ballet teacher?? I am a professional dancer!! Dancers only teach because they’re washed up or they didn’t make it. I had this really terrible attitude. So I turned the job down.

Then I got a job in a socially and emotionally disturbed classroom as a substitute teacher’s aide.

Oh my goodness!

You see, I’m little and tiny–I’m a ballet dancer. This classroom had a locked door–they did that back then. They locked us in with the kids. As luck would have it, I got a permanent placement because no one was clamoring to take this job. So I was at this job and just hating it. I was thinking I was doing good for people, but it really wasn’t me. I am not cut out for hard emotional work, dealing with kids that you’re trying to love. A kid threw a book through the window, broke the window, and threatened me with a piece of glass. The next day, I called and said, “I physically can’t do this kind of work any more.”

Now I needed a job to pay rent. So I went groveling back to my first dance teacher whom I loved and who gave me my first dance solo at age six–I’ll never forget that. Because of her, I am so thankful that I get to touch lives every single day. Back then, not so much. I called her up and asked if she still had the job opening, and she said, “Of course, for you. I’d love to have you at my dance school.”

She hired me and told me that my first class was Saturday and I was going to teach her babies–her three-year-olds. I was rolling my eyes. Three years old? Are they in diapers?? I walked in that Saturday morning, and I was not feeling it. But all these little girls–it was like magic…it was like a magnet. They all came up to me with their little eyes and their tutus, and they were looking at me like, “Miss Karen, teach me.” They were so in love with ballet, even before I got there! It was an epiphany for me. That moment, I knew I needed to be right there. I have chills right now as I’m telling the story.

Me too!

I had a great class. I loved it and couldn’t wait to teach again. But something in my heart was telling me…I was twenty-three years old. I had a degree from Temple University in Fine Arts, not Performing Arts. I felt like I needed some more education. So I went through the program at Dance Educators of America. I drove back and forth to New York for six months. No one’s ever looked at my paperwork, but it was something I needed for me. So those six months, I was teaching and traveling.

With Josiah Viera

I taught there for seven years, and my first dance teacher who gave me the job got pregnant. She got so sick, so she asked me, “Do you want my dancing school?” I was like, “Yes, but I don’t know how to do a show or a recital. I’m really good in the classroom.” She assured me she would help me through all the shows. So I ran her dancing school for six years. Right around the time that her baby went into first grade, my husband–we were dating at the time–asked me to marry him and move. So I asked my former teacher, “Do you want your dancing school back?” And she said, “Yes!” And that dancing school is still going on even today. One of her children is running the dancing school, and her first little baby has gone on to be a professional dancer and one of her big gigs was Cats!

Wow, that is amazing.

So I moved to Danville, Pennsylvania. Before that, when I was going back and forth to New York, I was buying my clothes in New York. I would always come back with all these cool dance clothes, and all the kids wanted them. So I opened up a boutique in my hometown. For a long time I owned a dance school and a boutique. I sold that boutique when I moved, and that it is still going to this day, believe it or not.

As I look back now, that really was a scary but amazing time of my life. I guess that’s a lesson for kids in their twenties. As I look back now, I can say I trusted God that He would take care of me. I didn’t know everything back then. In fact, I didn’t know anything. He blessed me. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard at times. I should have worried less back then, but you know how we are.

After I was married and moved, I didn’t want to teach for awhile. Within a year, I got pregnant–I have two amazing sons. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but that got old. {laughs} I mean, I loved every minute of it, but there was this draw to teach dance. When my second son went to kindergarten, I opened a dancing school in my new town. I’ve been teaching thirty-five years. I’ve been here for twenty-eight of those. When I first started, I thought, “I’m the new guy in town.” I had no following. No one knew me, and I figured no one would come.

I rented this little space on the third floor of a pharmacy, and in three weeks, I had so much business, we blew out of that. So I opened a much bigger studio, and we blew out of that. God has blessed me. And now I own a building with three floors, two studios…see what I mean? See how thankful I am every single day? I don’t take one day for granted with these kids.

Karen and her 2 sons

My older son is going to be a surgical PA {physician’s assistant} in the air force. And my younger son plays professional baseball.  I have an amazing husband of twenty-eight years. God is King of kings, and He took care of me. I owe Him everything. Also, my first dance teacher believed in me, and she gave me a start. And I’m still in touch with her. I still work hard. I teach twenty-two classes a week. Plus company. Plus weekend workshop series. I love the work.

These are the kinds of stories I just love. When you talked about being snobby at first about teaching–that is so common. A lot of young people are like that. You might have heard the phrase, “Those who can’t, teach.” That is not true. That comes from someone who has no idea what teachers do. 

Yes, I agree with you. Teaching comes from your heart. It comes from something deep inside that you want to make a difference in a child’s life.

I do need to share this one other thing. A long time ago, I decided that every girl is beautiful. From day one, every single day, every single hour, we put our hands together–all the girls–like baseball teams do, and we count 1, 2, 3, and on 3, we yell, “I am beautiful!” I try to instill in their hearts that they are beautiful. Not because society says so, not because a boy says so. Because God said so. “The Most High God created you in your own special beauty.” That’s my message every day to every single girl. We learn dance along the way, but we also learn about life. It’s in my heart to instill good things in the hearts of these little girls.

I cannot tell you how much that means to me. In today’s society, young girls get so many messages that tell them they are not pretty or worthy, so that’s just awesome. I try to do similar things when I can. 

Well, you touched me. I was so honored when you asked to interview me. I’m just a little, local dance teacher just being me. When you said you wanted to hear my story, I was thinking, “I don’t have a story.” My story is love and life and God taking care of me. I guess that’s a story.

You know, with interviews and me, it has never been about just the names and the famous people. If someone has a story to tell, I want to hear it. With me, it’s always about the story and trying to see the person for who he or she really is. While I’m going to ask about movies and TV shows or whatever that they’re in, that is never my focus. And the story you told gave me chills.

Oh, thank you. It’s still so real. And I still get that feeling every day when the kids look at me with those eyes that say, “Miss Karen, teach me. I’m here.” And you can’t have a bad day, not with the kind of love these kids give you. Sure you have a bad day, but not after you get to the studio.

You guys got to go to the Orange Bowl, right?

Yes, we were nominated and selected to go to the Orange Bowl. It was an amazing experience. It really was a family event. My girls were on the field in the Dolphin’s Stadium, and they were dancing with Joe Jonas! They treated us like professional dancers. We would eat breakfast at six and have to be at the bus by 6:30. We rehearsed literally for like eight hours! The choreographers were amazing, but they said there was no organized bathroom or water breaks. If the girls needed to take a break, they needed to make sure they knew that part of the choreography so they didn’t miss anything. My students stepped up really quick. It is an experience they will never forget.

In the past few years with my weekend workshop series, I’ve had these choreographers come in from LA, New York and Philadelphia just to teach my kids. When they first get here and they see us–we’re little and local, way out in the country, we’re hungry–we’re like those kids looking at me. Like, “Dave Scott is here!”

With Dave Scott

My students are hungry to learn.  Dancers that dance with huge names come to our studio. I get calls. People see that there’s a need. We’re not LA, Philly or New York. We can’t just take a local class with a famous choreographer. We’d have to drive three hours to get to a class. When they come to us, we’re like, “Yes, please!” And my students have gone to the next level. When we do dance conventions, we are there. Not to brag, just to point out what my dancers are doing.

Dmac and. Ed Moore at Karen’s studio

Recently, I took a couple of my students to LA for a professional photo shoot. I couldn’t have done that without guidance. Dmac did an incentive program, and he picked two of my dancers, and he’s bringing them to LA all expenses paid. Professional dance classes, a professional video shoot with his professional dancers. Two of my girls were also selected to be models for Urban Empire. One is six and one is fifteen. They went to San Diego, and they are doing a photo shoot down there. It’s a blessing to see this happening. I am so humbled. It’s so neat how God gives you more than you expect. I’m just so thankful every single day for my family and for my dance family and all the good people like you around me. I really don’t want to talk about my accolades. I really want this to be about the kids and giving back. It’s about getting on your knees and thanking the kids. Your past doesn’t really matter. It’s what you’re doing now that matters. Do something positive today. Don’t project where you are going; show me.

With Michael and Janeen

So tell us about High Strung  and how you got connected with Michael and Janeen Damian.

Oh, you know they’re getting ready to do High Strung 2. I hope and pray they are going to start filming soon. Oh, talk about a good guy. Michael shows so much love. And so does Janeen! Michael has been amazing. He just took me in under his wing. He introduced me to people. That’s why I was on the red carpet. Michael, Janeen, and Janeen’s sister, JoJami .

With JoJami Tyler

JoJami and I–talk about kindred spirits. We made an instant connection. We still keep in touch and have fun.

We did a private showing of High Strung at our local theater. I set it up, and we sold over a hundred ten tickets. The theater couldn’t hold any more people.

With Michael

Michael was in his car face-timing me and sincerely thanking me for setting things up and showing the movie. Who does that? He face-timed all the people at the theater, and they saw him on the big screen. He thanked them for their support. I have been so blessed to know such wonderful people. And I will never forget that red carpet experience and all the people I got to meet. I think that good people know good people. Michael, Janeen, the cast and crew of High Strung. Oh, and let’s talk about my friend Jimmy Star! He is full of kindness and generosity. I never go a day without thanking God for His many blessings. I am where I am now because of God and the kindness and help of so many good people in this world of ours. God knew what He was doing so many years ago when He paved the way for me to become a teacher. It humbles me every day when I’m in front of those girls teaching classes.

With Anabel Kutay

With Nigel Lythgoe

With Nicholas Galitzine

With Dave Scott

Karen’s dancers at opening night with Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Karen is one of those special people that you meet and never quite forget the experience. Her first priority is highlighting everyone else, and unlike some in the entertainment business, she was not used to sharing about herself and her accomplishments. She preferred highlighting all the special people in her life, especially the dancers who brighten her life every day. Her commitment to excellence and positivity is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is often critical, competitive and overly harsh. Karen tempers everything with the love that pours out of her soul for every human being on this planet. Karen is one who joyously fades into the background when necessary, but she is aware of the deluge of blessings God has granted her throughout every moment of her life. Even when she was headstrong and a bit “uppity” concerning the profession of teaching, God found a way to humble her and put her where He wanted her. And now she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. While the dance industry may have lost a lovely soul with a promising career, Karen is one of those incredible women who continues to serve and inspire an entire new generation of dancers. And I am immensely honored to know her!

 

Dress up like Miss Karen day

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Karen Gronsky School of Dance Page

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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