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Towson University

Ballroom Teacher
By Kimberly Parody
For BaltimoreStories.com

Step in carefully to one of Karen Trimble's ballroom dance classes. Trimble has a reputation of being called the “dragon lady” by some of her students, and according to student William Laboon, she is proud of it.

“I have taken several classes with others, but Karen is a little scarier,” said Laboon. “She makes sure you are doing them [steps] right and makes sure you are 100 percent.”

Despite her reputation, Trimble is a popular ballroom dance instructor in the Baltimore and Washington area, continuously pushing her students to improve. Having a foundation and relationship between instructors and students is important for them both to grow.

“I take great pride in my students and their ongoing successes,” said Trimble. “They redefine me at every level.”

Trimble has been teaching ballroom dancing for 30 years. She is now self-employed, teaching throughout the week at the Promenade Dancesport Facility, the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Trimble has taught numerous dancers, including Laboon, who has taken group and private classes with her since June of last year.

“Being a good dancer does not make you a good teacher,” said Laboon. “She has an aura of confidence.”

According to Laboon, Trimble will always help when you are having trouble and give individual attention, even in a group setting. He says that she always knows why you are doing something wrong, and that may be due to her experience.

“It helps to be able to talk and be comfortable with your teacher,” said Laboon. “If I have a problem, I feel like I can go to her after class.”

Gabriel Cabellon is a dancer in Trimble's intermediate classes and has taken lessons with Trimble for over a year. He agrees with Laboon, saying some think Trimble's teaching style is a little on the strict side, but it is not personal. That is what makes her classes so beneficial and makes her a good coach.

“With her experience, she has seen a lot of the bad and the good,” said Cabellon. “Karen is very serious about her craft and wants to convey that to her students.”

Trimble has worked her way up the ballroom ladder, with hard work and rewards along the way. Trimble grew up in western Pennsylvania, which, she said was an poor area with little chance of becoming a ballroom dance teacher. As an art student at Temple University, the disco and hustle era was booming.

“Everyone went disco dancing, seniors to children,” said Trimble. “Nothing compares to that craze now.”

Trimble says in those days, ballroom teachers were needed desperately. She had previous dance experience with ballet and modern, but not ballroom.

“I had a natural aptitude,” said Trimble. “I was one of many asked to become a teacher.”

From 1977 to 1983, Trimble worked at a Fred Astaire studio in Philadelphia before meeting a professional partner and moving to Maryland.

Trimble participated in many competitions, roughly eight to 10 each year, until stopping in 1996. Even with all her years of dancing, the longest she has ever kept the same dance partner is three years.

“I never had a successful professional partner,” said Trimble. “They are hard to come by.”

Along with partners being hard to find, Trimble says that making a good living in ballroom is also hard. She says the studio was her second home. Ballroom dancing has been her way to make a living, not to socialize.

“Ballroom is a business, it is not an allocation or a hobby,” said Trimble. “As long as I live and pay bills.”

According to Trimble, there are lots of perks to this business, but the glamorous profession aspect of dressing up and dancing is not all that it is cracked up to be. She says she has been in some movies and television commercials as a background dancer, but it takes a lot of hard work.

“I am still teaching and learning new things with every lesson,” said Trimble. “I have not achieved my biggest accomplishment as yet.”

Her drive for success is given to her students when she teaches them. She teaches beginner, intermediate and competitive dance in both American and International styles.

Cabellon hopes to compete in American style ballroom dancing some day. He says, “I would focus on having Karen teach me.”

“Teachers tend to be passive in comments,” Cabellon said of other instructors. “When it comes to dance, you need to know what areas to improve in.”

Preparation for competitions or just to improve your own personal dancing can be a long road. It can help to have an instructor that makes you work hard and cares about her students.

According to Trimble, there is only one way to get to Carnegie Hall: “practice, practice, practice.”

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