But I'm Not Dead Yet

Once a Rockette

I sold my soul. Once. For cherrywood cabinets. Well, there may have been a few other times, but that’s another story. When I was four years old I stepped into a ballet class at Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio. It was the first time I’d stepped anywhere without leg braces. And the first time I felt beautiful. A moment to be defined by grace, instead of a walking mistake. Beauty. It’s hard to resist.

life through cracks

Even at four years old it’s transforming to glimpse who you might be. When I took off the black and white, metal reinforced saddle shoes and put on beautiful, soft, pink ballet slippers, I exchanged “special” for a remarkable life of rapture, pain, unrest, confidence, self-doubt, strength and music. A life waiting silently, but not patiently, in the loud souls of hard, unforgiving saddles.

If my mother hadn’t taken me inside that little pink studio with the gold “spotting” stars, I wonder if I would have had a lifetime of waiting on the outside of beauty? But, she took a chance, a risk, and did take me inside, and so the legs that were broken to begin with, straightened out and grew up and gave me a chance.

I was able to dance long enough to wear out my crooked legs. I danced in movies, on TV, and on some spectacular stages. For a moment, I was a Rockette. When that moment ended, I got married, had two daughters and moved to the desert. Which seemed like a good idea at the time. I want that sentence engraved on my headstone “Well, it seemed like a good idea…at the time.”
We moved to Chandler, Arizona to raise our beautiful girls in a nice neighborhood we could almost afford. We couldn’t afford an insecure house in any neighborhood in Los Angeles where we were currently living and working and acting and dancing very little. One day, house shopping in neighborhoods that were identical on the outside, we came upon a home that had the-most-beautiful-cherrywood-cabinets on the inside. I could not resist their beauty. So, we bought it.

Apparently, cherrywood cabinets also make me feel beautiful. I’ve been keeping my soul in those cabinets. Right next to the giant coffee mugs. And the memory of the soul freeing first day at Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio. 

I just never planned to be a wife, or a mother, or live in a suburb. I was under the misguided impression that I was special. I mean, dancers are at least, pretty. I thought I would always have somewhere exciting to go. Chandler, Arizona was not the first place that came to mind, but here I am. A wife. A mother. Living in a sea of stucco.

We have lived in this suburb for 15 years now. The once beautiful cabinets are starting to show their wear and tear. They creak. They don’t shut all the way. They used to be shiny with a deep rich hue. Just like us. They need to be refinished. Just like us. When the objects we traded in our souls for start to lose their value, what happens to us? Do we have the same chance for refinishing? I was refinished once when I was four years old. Ballet gave me a chance to change my story. Does refinishing truly mean- finishing again? To make beautiful – again? At the end of the story, can we still change our ending? Can ballet still save the day?

I made an important decision that lifetime ago to leave the comfort of Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio and become a dancer in New York City, and another to marry my husband, and to become a mother. I can’t say that I made any of these decisions with intelligent forethought. But, if I hadn’t first made the decision to follow the intense tugging in my soul to dance – I know absolutely that I would suck at the life I now lead. And I do still dance, although stiffly and sometimes while sitting.

If my mother hadn’t taken me out of my corrective shoes and allowed me the freedom to dance, I truly feel I would never have known…anything. I know very little, but I know I lived a dream.  I know I searched beyond the dream to find someone who loves me no matter who I am or who I will become, and who loves saying he’s married to someone who was once a Rockette.

And all of it sounded like a good idea at the time.


  1. Ellen Wolff

    love this…”And I do still dance…and sometimes while sitting”

  2. Karen Burns

    Sigh….Ellen…I don't!!!!

  3. Laura Rolfe

    Karen, you will always have a dancers soul (and sole). You also have inspired many others to befcome dancers, singers, actors, performers, and funny people. Moving people out of their comfort zones, to be something more. Thank you for moving to the suburbs 15 years ago and inspiring me…Katie..Kevin…and so many others.

  4. Viviana Alvarez

    It's the first time I read your blog, and I loved your style, but moreover, I loved reading about a professional dancer. I usually say I am an amateur in most my activities, including life itself. After 20 years of having not worn my ballet shoes once I decided to try it again, just for old time sake more than 6,000 miles away from the dance studio where I learnt it all, and found the passion once more… maybe you just need to find a new dream -a dance-related dream, why not?

  5. Katie West

    That was a beautiful story! Thanks!!! I truly believe that for some people, myself and obviously you included, dance and especially ballet become a part of you that will never go away. I stopped dancing and taking class for 13 years while raising my son as a single mom with a full-time job. As I neared 50 years old, I started having all kinds of physical problems. It was suggested to me by a very wise psychologist that perhaps I needed to get back in class, so I found an adult ballet class and started again. The minute I touched the barre and heard that beautiful piano music I knew I had done the right thing. I've been taking class now for 5 years, and although my body won't do what it used to do and I am plagued with old injuries, I still find incredible joy in focusing my whole being on dancing during that hour a few time a week. One of the best decisions in my life was to let dance back in, and I'm off to ballet class this morning 🙂

  6. Karen Burns

    Thank you for leaving a comment Katie! Yes to everything you said. It's inspiring to me that you are continuing to be in class for 5 years!

  7. Karen Burns

    Laura! It means the world to me that you took the time to comment and to say such incredible words that are like coffee to my soul! Seriously, coffee was the best analogy. And I'm sure you probably know that the “funny people” comment was the most dear to me, in that your family is the funniest one I know!!! Thank you very, very much.

  8. Karen Burns

    Thanks for the encouragement Vivianna. Yes, I've been looking for a new dream…I'm wondering if I don't have the body to keep dancing, maybe now I have the words to write about it…and maybe that will be a good ending to the story…

    I like very much hearing you found dancing again and the passion still!

  9. Marti

    You most definitely have, and will always have, the soul of a dancer. Who knows where it will take you now? Opportunity awaits!

  10. Karen Burns

    Does opportunity still await Marti? Because that would be truly surprising. A nice surprise though

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