Karen Ng is a kiwi dancer and choreographer, and also a pharmacist. She recently returned from New York, where she was studying dance at the Broadway Dance Center and dancing with some of the best in the business. What's really interesting about Karen's dance journey is that it very nearly didn't happen. That's right, if it weren't for a life coaching course through Landmark Education, Karen may never have followed her heart (and feet) to New York.
We caught up with Karen to talk dance, New York and success.
Cool. I am an Aquarius, my fave colour is a tie between pink and purple and my fave food is sushi! Now that we know each other a little better lets ask some more juicy questions...
When did you become involved in dance?
I started dancing at the age of 4, first in Ballet with Phyllis Smith School of Dance in Napier, Hawkes Bay. When I was growing up, I would spend hours video taping all my favourite music videos. There weren't any classes other than in Jazz and Ballet so this was the only way to learn. I would spend all day watching Janet Jackson videos, playing, pausing, rewinding and doing it again and again until I'd learn the whole dance! I was obsessed with the dancers. I started choreographing and teaching friends when I was around 11 years old, entering into school talent dance competitions and making up my own moves to Janet Jackson's "IF". I was too young to know how sexual the lyrics were most the time, but it didn't matter!
So you were working as a pharmacist before you decided to give dancing a real go. What made you finally take the leap?
I had moved up quickly from being a pharmacist, to dispensary manager and then faced with the opportunity of buying my own pharmacy. To many, buying your own business is their ultimate dream, but my heart was screaming out for travel and adventure! After many months, PLUS a life-coaching intensive with Landmark Education, i finally realized that I had to bite the bullet and go do what I REALLY LOVE with my life rather than lock myself down with responsibilities and fulfilling everyone else's expectations. I'm so glad I did it, because if I hadn't I would've never found out how far I could take this. It's really a dream come true.
What is your preferred dance style for both your choreographic work and your own dancing?
My main style of dance has always been Hip Hop - whether it's choreography, freestyle or experimenting with the fundamental elements of popping and waving. I have also grown a huge passion for Waacking, a 70's disco freestyle dance with emphasizes mainly on musicality and expressing the music through your arms.
I've choreographed mainly for Commercial Hip Hop and Street Jazz performances (music video style), but personally I think it's important not to limit yourself and I'm constantly taking classes in all styles of dance to open up my vocabulary as much as possible; including learning West African dance, Tap, Contemporary Fusion, Salsa, Swing and Rock and Roll to improve my knowledge of partner work. The beauty of dancing in New York is that there is such variety to choose from and you get to learn from the best (eg. learning African dance with the cast of FELA!)
There have been so many! In such a short space of time I have been really blessed. Some of the BEST parts don't sound so impressive, like being selected in class to be in the final group. (At the end of a 90min class, the teacher will select a handful of the best students to perform to the rest of the class)
But in a room packed with dancers from all over the world and where the best in the US come to train - that's when you know your hard work and sweat MATTER - these teachers are choreographers in the industry, so for them to NOTICE you in a room full of dancers and pick you out, it's a huge deal internally. The determination, talent and intensity in some of those classes are pure magic.
My favorite performances were with Princess Lockerooo - the originality of her pieces and the style of dancing - Waacking - we got to do was phenomenal: it was such an honor to work and dance with someone so talented and dedicated.
Also, showcasing my own choreography in various events around the city was a huge deal, putting my own work out there and receiving some pretty amazing feedback from choreographers I admire/respect (I was asked to perform -with my own group- my choreography for a studio opening evening, alongside the cast of NBC's Smash and Parsons Dance Company )
Dancing in New York sounds amazing! I'm so jealous, I really want to go to New York. What was it like?
It's hugely inspiring! To be SURROUNDED by others going full out in the same dream, all encouraging each other and working alongside each other and getting feedback and building working relationships with people that HAVE made it, there's nothing better.
The most amazing thing about dancing in New York is that you never know who you might meet. The community is small, and sometimes I'd find myself at a party in a room full of dancers/singers that are on Broadway, and each person that I'd talk to would have the most amazing story of how they got to where they are and have nothing but encouragement. They've been through the thick and thin of it so hearing their struggles and them being so open about their journey lets YOU know that dreams do come true. You just gotta be prepared to work your ass off for it.
New York is an amazing city - there's a buzz there that's inexplainable. Something in the air that convinces you that anything, and everything is possible. There's a ton of amazing events on, no matter what night of the week! From the most popular, high end kind of event to the most kitschy, eclectic artsy fartsy gathering. I would take every opportunity (in between all the dancing) to explore the city, often self-inviting to people's events like -
A speakeasy evening in a hidden cocktail bar with burlesque dancers;
A poetry brothel tucked away in a dark hidden stairwell that opens into a 1920s bar filled with poets reciting sexy poetry - 1 on 1 on a chaisse lounge if you have $5 to spare!
A rooftop graffiti skate park - hosts a NZ film festival!
A man pooing on the side of the road! LOL!
A guy that tried to pick me up on the street, showing me pictures of his bedroom - and he had all sorts of "cookie monster" memorabilia ALL over his room, posters, soft toys, even a cookie monster headboard, glow in the dark cookie monsters in there too. uhhhhh no thanks! (Run away now!) AND he was PROUD of his Cookie Monster obsession.
Are New Yorkers really as rude as they are portrayed in the movies?
Ha, it depends. Some people just don't have time to waste, so you have to get straight to the point. There's so many micro-worlds within NYC it's all up to what you're doing, who you surround yourself with. I find people are generally quite open and will have the funniest encounters/conversations with fellow new yorkers going about their lives.
Part of going to a different country is the food. Are there any foods you recommend trying there?
Chicken and Waffles! I'm a fan of Southern Food - and one of my favourite little places is called "Pies n Thighs" in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Also the Reuben Sandwich from Katz's Deli. It IS a bit of a tourist trap but he Pastrami is ridiculously good.
What would you say to someone who would like to follow their dreams but is afraid to take the first step?
Think of the end of your life, what would you like to look back on? All the amazing ideas you have - but don't act upon - how many of those ghosts of un-realized ideas will be haunting you? (Deathbed regrets.)
Reach out and get involved with others passionate about the same thing!
By surrounding yourself and having conversations with other people that are driven and motivated to succeed makes ALL the difference. It's much easier to start taking those steps even when you have just 1 other person wanting to achieve similar goals (following their dreams, not even necessarily in the same field). Hold each other accountable, set weekly or fortnightly meetings - 30mins max to stay focused. Write down the goals of what you WANT to achieve, and work back to simple, achievable actions you can do each week. As you build upon the last action, your steps will get bigger, but start small first - and remember to celebrate small victories along the way!
The most successful people in any business have gotten there by going through A LOT of crap. A lot of the time it's surprising how willing people are to help, because they've been through what you have, but didn't give up.
Distance yourself from the nay-sayers or people in your life that ARENT supportive. We already are full of our own self-doubts and fears, we don't need more negative voices feeding into our lives. Spend alone time, free from distractions and media - and in silence, listen carefully to what your heart really wants.
Otherwise - enroll in a short-term commitment that will submerge yourself in the type of environment that encourages you to DO what you love doing. It doesn't have to be quitting your job and moving across the world, but the small act of devoting your time (e.g. 1-3 month project or course) completely to what you love will give you a taste of what life COULD be like, if you allowed yourself to step out of the box.
And last but not least - Landmark Education - made a huge difference in dismantling many of the fears and self doubts that I had about my own abilities - the ones that keep us living within a box of crippling limitations - sometimes we are so wounded from our past that we need someone to help us see the best in ourselves before we can step out to take those risks.
What would you say to your teenage self?
Wow. I would tell teenage me to:
Believe in your own abilities. You have far more to offer the world than you think. Take every opportunity. Everybody is afraid of looking stupid, but if you give everything your best shot, you will ultimately learn from the experience and it will lead you to even greater things that you can't even imagine. Every experience can open up a new door you didn't even know about. Listen to your heart, there is a reason why you experience crushing pain and cry each time you don't follow through on what you had your heart set on. But above all, everything will turn out fine.
Choreographing for shows/Running my own dance company and maybe another business on the side (fingers crossed!)
Who are your dance heroes/inspirations?
I am inspired by the people that have made a name for themselves and stayed true to what they represent, backed up by humbleness & hard work. There are SO many dance heroes...dancers really work their butt off to make things happen.
I love choreographers like Rhapsody James, Dana Foglia and Luam Keflezgy. Also Parris Goebel is doing amazing things!
In your opinion, what are the three most important keys to succeeding at what you love doing?
1. Never give up. Commit to seeing results, no matter how long it takes.
2. Do it a LOT. As much as you can. Practice every day. Takes 10,000 hours to become masterful at something (as per Malcolm Gladwell). And if you're not doing it, at least research and educate yourself so you have a deeper understanding of what you love. Even if you're alone, there's something you can do, wherever you are.
3. Get amongst people that love it too.
So what's next for you?
Right now, I'm working on new choreography, teaching and coaching a few amazing young dancers for upcoming competitions and performances - already have one 1st place win under the belt this year, so I'm excited about creating more pieces with the talent in my hometown.
Looking forward to moving to New York City, and perhaps giving London/Europe a go!
The beauty of living in NYC is the hugely international community I get plugged into - so there's a great network of dancers from all over the world that I'm connected to and have the opportunity to create opportunities with.
Thanks for chatting to us Karen! And good luck in NYC!