It all started in 1981, when Karen began dancing and competing with internationally recognized DanceSport judge and coach Dan Calloway. Turning pro in 1984, she continued her education, studying under several internationally recognized coaches. She now holds two degrees with the North American DanceSport Association and is working on a third!
In 1990 she began her dance teaching career in Harrisonburg. She opened “Dancing with Karen” in 2006 at the current location, 77 E Market, where she teaches ballroom, Latin, swing, folk, street and club dances. She welcomes anyone who wants to take a few lessons casually as well as students keen to compete.
Her studio is known for a friendly atmosphere, always making people with “two left feet” welcome. Dancing with Karen is unique in that there are no expensive contracts to sign.
“It’s not about the money”, says Karen. “I wanted to make dancing accessible to all. I believe in using your gifts to enrich lives and make people feel good about themselves.”
Karen has enriched lives beyond her Studio. She has done free events and performances for many retirement homes, schools and churches. For thirteen years she has donated studio space, coaching and choreography for the annual “Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg” event, helping the Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Daycare Center raise over $1,000,000 toward a new facility.
She was among those honored for her work with the HRCDC on National Philanthropy Day, November 21, 2022, by the Shenandoah Chapter Association of Fundraising Professionals. Their motto is “Change the world with a giving heart.”
Michele started dancing when a mentor challenged her to try something new for physical activity. She had always wanted to dance but – believing you had to bring your own partner – had never followed the inclination. After being assured that singles were truly welcome and accommodated at Dancing with Karen, she finally took her first class: East Coast Swing. “I was hooked the very first evening!” After that class Michele went on to learn waltz, foxtrot, rumba and other dances.
In 2013 Michele began teacher training with Karen and has now achieved national certification. She currently teaches beginner and intermediate American Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango; Rumba and Cha Cha. She also assists with upper level classes as needed. “Dancing has introduced me to a wonderful form of expression and lots of new friends. I only wish I started 20 years sooner! And I hope I never stop learning”
Adriel has been a student of Karen Thomas from September 2007 until 2019 learning Ballroom, Latin and Swing dances. He has been teaching Salsa under Karen's tutalage for over 10 years. Traveling to events on the east coast to stay up to date on modern expression of Salsa, Bachata, Argentine Tango and West Coast wing. An engineer by profession, he is excited to share his love of dance with people.
Mike and Phoebe Renfro
Phoebe began dancing ballet at the age of 4 and grew up watching Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rodgers, nurturing a love of ballroom dance. After taking time off to raise a family, Phoebe resumed dancing in 2008 when she took her first swing class at Dancing with Karen. From Argentine Tango to many others, Phoebe loves teaching and seeing that "Aha!" moment where the moves make sense.
It was during an Argentine Tango class that Phoebe met her husband, Mike. Mike had also started out with a swing class at Dancing with Karen, after attending a music camp in 2002. Soon he moved on to waltz, foxtrot, quickstep and more. While East Coast Swing and Argentine Tango remain favorites, Mike and Phoebe have also taught Rumba and Cha cha. They love sharing the fun and joy of dance with others.
Nick Gardner was first introduced to social dancing while a student at Spotswood High School. From there, he joined the JMU Swing Dance club and found his way into the Dancing With Karen Studio where he studies and teaches several types of social partner dancing. Nick is a member of the Shenandoah Valley chapter of USA Dance, a coordinator of HarriSWINGburg's monthly swing dance and runs the monthly swing dance at Dancing With Karen. Nick performed in the swing dance exhibition at 2017's Dancing With The Stars Of The Burg.
Nick aspires to expand social dancing in the Harrisonburg area with a special interest in swing dance and attracting young adult participation. He currently teaches East Coast Swing, Lindy and beginner Latin classes at the studio.