Provided by Josh Heath
Karen Brown has lived a life most people can only imagine. She has traveled the world, met celebrities, such as Maya Angelou and Michael Jackson, and performed as a principal ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem for 22 years. She has even performed for Queen Elizabeth and former President Ronald Reagan. Now she shares her time and talents with the local Savannah River Region community. Since 2018, she has directed a summer program for about 50 local children at the Sand Hills Community Center. The program is based on leadership skills taken from the movie “Black Panther,” and includes listening, taking responsibility and respecting everyone. One of the major goals of the program is to improve the children’s self-esteem by teaching them social skills, such as how to overcome shyness and interact with others in a variety of social situations. Brown says she trains kids to become what she calls border crossers, a term that refers to people who can adapt their behavior to any environment.
The program is held for two weeks in the summer, and the kids receive only nutritious meals and snacks, not Cheetos. The community center is a cell-phone free zone, which some kids find challenging at first. One of the activities for the children is called “Meeting our Neighbors under the Trees,” which involves interviewing men and women who gather to talk, play cards and listen to music at the end of Fleming Avenue near Wheeler Road. The children then share a presentation on what they learned about their new friend. Brown and the other children vote on which one has the most interesting story. She said when the program starts, some of the children can barely introduce themselves, but by the end, they can speak at length about the people they interviewed. The group also goes on field trips to local sites, such as the Laney Museum and the Augusta Riverkeepers.
Brown, born in Oklahoma, grew up in Augusta. Her father, Dr. Allen Brown, established his family medicine practice here, and her mother previously worked as a registered nurse. Brown and her brother integrated Episcopal Day School in the 1960s, and she graduated from Aquinas High School. Brown’s parents encouraged her and her six siblings to pursue their interests, and they had the financial resources to pay for those pursuits. “My parents exposed us to everything,” she said. As a young girl, she began taking ballet classes with Ron Colton. Brown enjoyed the physical and mental challenges of ballet and trained at the Joffrey Ballet School as a teenager. Her dance skills didn’t go unnoticed. She was invited by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, founders of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, to join the company. Later, she also had the opportunity to work as a dancer on tour with Aretha Franklin.
Brown enjoys teaching at the Boys and Girls Club of the CSRA where she helps children develop a love for ballet. She has even found a way to get boys interested in ballet, explaining to them that the skills learned in ballet can help them improve on the basketball court. Through her business, En Pointe Plus Dance Mastery Institute, she teaches adult students. “I don’t have a building and don’t want one,” she says. Some of her clients meet her in person, but more often, she trains them through computerized motion analysis, which uses high-speed video to show them how to improve their steps.
While no longer a principal ballerina, Brown has no intention of slowing down. She is currently refurbishing the house where she grew up in North Augusta, traveling frequently and preparing for future ballet performances. This busy schedule keeps Brown on her toes.
For more information about Brown or her summer program, please visit her website, www.thekarenbrown.com or give her a call at 302-722-5538.
This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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