You know how some people’s calling is in their name? When I hear “Karen Kobel” I instantly picture a performer. It suits. Karen clearly knew it, too, as she’s been dancing since she was two! For the past 20 years, Karen has been teaching her style of Simonsen Dance, “a Jazz/Modern fusion with a twist of Yoga/Pilates”, as well as STOTT Pilates for the past 11 years.

With her solid experience and BFA in Dance Performance, Karen packs a lot of punch on her resume. However, it’s her energy that makes Karen stand out. When you meet her, you will feel her enthusiasm in motion; like Jacuzzi jets bubble water, she stirs people. She giggles, you smile. She breaks out in dance, you start to move.Yet, she is balanced by a contained, dignified power that informs you, there is much more depth to this woman beneath the bubbles.

As a businesswoman, Karen is the owner of Kahlena Wellness, through which she offers her services and event productions. As a multi-faceted artist, she also expresses through painting and writing. Karen has been continually exploring her passion, inquiring into her purpose and expanding her craft beyond teaching classes.

Her purpose is clear: to share her experience and inspire others to discover the healing and empowering effects of creativity in their lives. She writes, “After finding my own voice; and female voice at that, I have chosen to follow my path in helping other women find their voice, their own freedom, and their passion.”

VISION

One way Karen brings her purpose into form is through creating events. Her first was “Stand Up and Dance I”, which took her to Africa in November 2013. Collaborating with Living Positive Kenya, she taught Pilates and dance to HIV-positive women while hearing their stories. This exchange impacted her deeply, as she returned more deeply tuned in to her purpose.


METRO LIVING ZINE NEWS IMAGE CREDIT: B/W Photographs: Rez Zed Photography (https://www.facebook.com/Reza.Z.7). Colour: See It Live Canada (http://www.seeitlivecanada.ca)

On October 8th, 2014, she hosted her second event, “Stand Up and Dance II”at the Vancouver Fan Club. This was the manifest of her vision: “Dance/Fashion/Music/Art creating a space where these come together for the love of mental health, women, and humanity. This collaboration will tell this deep and passionate story of people coming together to use their voices not just to support victims and survivors of violation, but of mental wellness being compromised by others’ words and actions.”


METRO LIVING ZINE NEWS IMAGE CREDIT: Right: Rez Zed Photography (https://www.facebook.com/Reza.Z.7). Left: See It Live Canada (http://www.seeitlivecanada.ca)

The evening hosted a solid line-up of guest speakers, live music and painting, a DJ, rap artist, breakdancing, fashion show and dance crew performance with Karen kept the crowd transfixed, mixing and moving the whole evening.The two-story, stylish venue provided a cozy setting perfect for a mid-October night. The space was packed with guests all sharing support for a common cause – this makes a world of difference in how the energy of a crowd feels upon entering. It was full of heart.

Karen teamed up with “Light up the World in Purple for World Mental Health Day” to raise awareness and funds for her return to Kenya to continue teaching the women of Living Positive Kenya. The Light up Purple campaign is an initiative of the Amanda Todd Legacy Society, focused on recognizing the importance of mental health wellness and the de-stigmatization of the issues that surround mental illness.


METRO LIVING ZINE NEWS IMAGE CREDIT: See It Live Canada (http://www.seeitlivecanada.ca)

HER JOURNEY

What happened with the production of Stand Up and Dance II was truly powerful. With the first notice being put out mid-August, Karen had two months to prepare. With her clear vision and ideas in mind, she started with the backing and support of a few close friends, feeling confident it will come together. But life happens, and early in September one of her dearest friends and mentors suddenly passed away. Moving through shock and grief, Karen continued on, looking for collaborators. Then a series of smaller hurdles appeared, making some days feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders; get up, slide down.

The lessons for growth are always perfect, however. Karen needed to use for herself, the tools that she teaches others. Using dance and movement to help release the emotions running through her was her first response, while finding creative ways to do it. Dancing at night after work, retreating to the woods and beach, crying it out with friends, initiating hugs, pulling out her paints…she channeled all her feelings into motion. She gave them a voice. This process helped to clear her mind while she took one step at a time. Because her vision was most important, she kept focus, remembering what it was all about: something bigger than one of us; it was about all of us.

Feeling these emotions again re-fueled her purpose. For anyone who connects to the issues surrounding mental health, it is because we have ‘been there’. Karen related to me how the African women living with HIV feel isolated and alone;adding to their depression is the stigma and lack of many basics for living we are granted here. Sadly, many of us experience the emotional pain of isolation, often feeling worse by the realization we are on a planet with population overload. Stigmatization of our struggles or illnesses, are issues created by our societal cultures and behaviours. This can be solved. The message of HOPE for those hurting in isolation began to rise up.

SHARED JOURNEYS

Crises big or small have a way of opening hearts and moving feet, however. The web of collaborators from the creative arts community that stepped up join forces was dizzying. Too many to describe with adequate detail here, so I will highlight how some parties came together.

In August, Karen had highly-esteemed Chicago choreographer, Lee Palmer, booked to arrange her dance segment. This was one of the magical pieces: In Karen’s first phone call with Lee, he agreed to fly here and spend two and a half weeks training the dancers at warp speed. He had been referred to her by his brother Marc, the founder of FashionHope, an organization that Karen was volunteering with. Lee heard her vision and just knew they were meant to work together.Karen needed this man to keep his word; TRUST was embraced on both ends.

Asking for help was difficult for Karen, amidst the challenges and voice of self-doubt that many of us can relate to. She knew she had to push through this personal block and ask for help anyway. More magic happened when she did:when she reached out her hand, multiple hands reached back. Randi Winter, blogger/contributor at Novus TV, offered her generous support. She connected Karen to Carol Todd, who was excited to on board, allowing her a forum to have her voice be heard for her daughter’s legacy and message. Next, international activist, author and speaker Gabriella van Rij joined to share her message of the urgent importance of human kindness needed in our society today.

More artists continued to pour in, offering their form of creative expression. There were impromptu performances. Beautiful gift baskets filled the table for the draw. Photographers showed up. Novus TV came, completely by surprise. All of this built and came about because of small steps taken by Karen along the way. A year ago, she could not have predicted what or who her volunteer work would connect her to, or what doors it would open up in the future. It is the perfect demonstration of how choosing actions that align with your vision and purpose lead to outcomes greater than what one can envision at first. The ripple effect was in motion and still continues to build.

VOICES HEARD

From a spectator’s view, the evening ran seamlessly, and the power of community was seen, heard and felt. Karen’s dance crew performance enacted a clear message of the sense of frustration and disharmony in our society that we are collectively bumping up against. When the dance crew first came on floor, they walked around each other with no eye contact, not connecting, crashing into each other and close to chaos. Karen’s solo piece had her lying on the floor alone and abandoned.

However, the reality rising in the room above this message, was different; with our efforts and reaching out, our voices CAN be heard. By following your intuition and heart, people will come into your life that you CAN trust. (Choreographer Lee and Karen got along famously, right from the airport. Both expressed a “knowing” and ease with each other, that their paths were indeed, meant to cross).

THE MISSION CONTINUES

Karen is working with Dr. Debra Akre and Jeana King, founders of Tembo Trading Education Project (TTEP), to develop a dance program called DANCE FOR HOPE that aims to develop the creativity of the students and open them up to possibilities performing arts can provide. Together, their objective is to improve the quality of education for over 800 primary school students in the poorest areas of Kenya.

The three women, along with FashionHope, are traveling to Kenya in January 2015 to introduce the program. Donations to TTEP and the group’s trip to Kenya are being accepted through the Kahlena Wellness website at www.kahlena.com/stand-up-and-dance.

For descriptions of all the artists and speakers that were a part of the show, plus all photographs, please visit www.facebook.com/events/817049794992986 or search “STAND UP AND DANCE II”.