WARREN PEPER: Southern Rockette returns to new career at Ashley Ridge High
When the Ashley Ridge High theater and dance department needed some boys for its production of “Footloose,” the teacher told the girls it was up to them to do the recruiting. The next day, six boys from the track team were on the stage when a coach opened the door of the auditorium and yelled “Do you have my track team in here?” The dance teacher told the students not to worry, she would handle it. Handle it she did, because the track coach and the dance teacher are husband and wife.
Karen Bellush can think quickly on her feet, she’s made a living with them.
If you can make it there
For six years, Karen was a Rockette. After graduation from East Carolina, she left the theme parks and cruise ships for the bright lights of New York City. Though just barely meeting the 5-foot, 6-inch height requirement, she was chosen in her first audition. For half a dozen years, she was part of that precision dance team, sometimes doing five shows a day at Radio City Music Hall.
Often, being the shortest Rockette meant she might be at the end of the line in some numbers. One year, during the Tin Soldier portion of The Nutcracker Suite, when all the “soldiers” fall in a slow-motion domino fashion, the line became slightly crooked. Karen, the last soldier, slowly descended to the floor under the weight of all the others and dislocated her shoulder. The pain was so intense it was extremely difficult to lift even a candy cane in the second act.
She didn’t miss a beat, though. The show must go on.
Known as the “token Southerner” among the Rockettes, she kicked up her heels from 1997 to 2002. There were times the other dancers mocked her when she would answer the choreographer by saying “Yes, ma’am”.
After 9/11, the Southern girl wasn’t really interested in living in New York anymore. She wasn’t done with dancing, but the sure-footed Tar Heel accidentally tripped into another profession: teaching.
Kicks and kids
Karen started as a part-time dance teacher at Wando High. That led to a full-time position at Fort Dorchester where the program was just starting. Given a boom box and a stage, she was told to “go get ’em.” She also started dating Kevin, one of the Patriot coaches. They later married and both decided to move to Ashley Ridge High when it opened.
The one-time Rockette can still dig in her heels when it comes to fighting for her students. Whether it’s more wall mirrors or stretching bars, she wants her students to have the necessary tools to succeed.
How do her students feel about being taught by a former Rockette? The only time they really seem to notice is when Karen must demonstrate a high kick.
Now 39, the teacher is married with two young children. She thinks she’s a different teacher now that she’s a mother. She’s stricter, not as patient and doesn’t listen to excuses.
As an outlet, the teacher turns performer and gets to come out and play in various productions at the Charleston Music Hall, including the Charleston Christmas Special, where she’s danced the last 10 years.
Her next project is the school’s Spring Concert in May. Rehearsals are ongoing, and so far, it doesn’t look like they’ll have to do any additional recruiting from the track team. To tell you the truth, those guys weren’t running too hard the other way to begin with.
I’m just sayin …