Karen Clifton has certainly come a long way since her birth in Venezuela and move to New York City and the Bronx when she was eight. She credits dance with saving her from the drugs and gangs which were part and parcel of her childhood. From World Mambo Champion to Strictly Come Dancing via So You Think You Can Dance in the States, there’s no doubt Karen has packed a lot into her 36 years.
Off-stage she’s married twice, first time to dance partner Matthew Hauer, then later to Strictly dance partner Kevin Clifton. The couple separated in March this year but they spent the summer on a tour of the UK as best friends and dance partners.
We caught up with Karen to find out what lessons she has learnt in life and how she’s loving life after reinventing herself as a single woman – in the third interview of our three-part series.
I love being outside, going for walks and people watching. I love seeing different personalities – I know it sounds like I’m stalking people! But I really love going to a café and I sit there, with Betty my dog next to me, with my cup of coffee and I people watch. I find it relaxing – especially when it’s sunny.
I just put my phone away. I do take a book with me because I absolutely love reading. I find reading books on your phone strains your eyes but I love a good book to dip into. It’s so wonderful just to sit there and enjoy the sun – whenever it comes out!
I have always loved working with kids I have three KAKE Dance Studios in Putney, Wimbledon and Chiswick, it would be great to grow those. I love working with kids as I think it’s so important to be able to have freedom of expression. For children and not be afraid to be themselves and use movement. We are all on our phones, computers, iPads and we forget to move around and enjoy ourselves I love to integrate that into the lives of children and adults. It’s so important.
Children love it. But it does have to be brought to their attention, so long as there’s no pressure and it’s all about enjoying themselves. You must be able to use your imagination and to sweat – get those endorphins going.
It’s funny now I have cut my hair and gone blonde I don’t get so recognised quite as much but children recognise me really quickly. I don’t mind people coming up to me but I really enjoy the fact it is inspiring children, their faces light up when they recognise you. It’s like they have seen Santa Claus! It’s lovely to have children smile at you and they know that I know… And I’m always happy to take a selfie. But with no Strictly make up on and without my eyelashes I’m a bit hard to spot!
I have learned whichever obstacles come my way there is always a way out, you should always be positive. Sometimes things in life don’t go the way you want them to go but the only way is to not let anything from the past trouble your future. Always look forward.
I’ve been very lucky with my career, I have been dancing since eight, and that was thanks to a school programme called Arts Connection in the Bronx. I never expected years later to be living in London on one of the biggest shows on TV. I feel the fact I had amazing support around me and my Mum instilled hard work and discipline and to enjoy myself is behind that. I am proud of the amazing family I have, who have support me. And here I am now, it’s like the Cinderella story!
If you enjoyed this perhaps you’d also like to read the first two interviews which Lumity Life magazine did with Karen. She told us why she loves doughnuts and all about the health and fitness routine that has helped her to truly say she is in the best shape of her life.
Follow Karen on Instagram and YouTube for fitness inspiration @karencliftonofficial and find out more about her children’s dance classes on the Kake Dance Studio on Instagram. Don’t forget to watch her on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing this Autumn.