When dance instructor Karma Raines was three years old, she already understood the profound joy of movement. On a busy Monday night, in between teaching Zumba and Hip Hop, Karma has found time to chat with me in an empty racquetball court at the Wooden Center. Smiling, she tells me, “There’s a video of me when I was three, and I was dancing, and I was like ‘Mom, I want to be a picture… Or maybe a play… Or a movie!’ I didn’t know what I meant, I just knew that I wanted to (entertain) and move my body.”
Now, at age twenty-seven and after a lifetime of dancing, Karma still hasn’t lost that innate desire to move her body. And she satisfies it by being both a teacher and a student of dance. “Every day I’m teaching at least two to three classes and then taking at least two to three,” she shares. Despite her physically demanding schedule, Karma never seems to lack energy. “My students give me energy,” she responds when I ask how she stays so enthusiastic. “If I just had a bad day… I can’t really walk into the room and be down. I go in and dance and literally leave it on the floor. You sweat it out, you cry it out, it’s done, and you walk away. And I’m like whew, let’s go again, let’s do some more dancing!”
A love for her students, a love for her family (who she calls her “rock”), and even a love for strangers at dance events, is evident in Karma’s speech. This past July, she was asked to promote Zumba at a community event in the Crenshaw district as part of Target’s National Night Out. She was alone on stage when “out of nowhere,” people started dancing with her, following her moves. “And there was an old lady who was in a wheelchair and I could see her right across… And, inspired, she stood up out of her chair,” she shares. Later, Karma’s uncle told her that the woman had never before attempted standing since being confined to a wheelchair. “Oh I cried. It was emotional,” Karma admits.
The emotional connection Karma feels with her those she moves is unbound by age. She teaches Hip Hop to 7 and 10-year-olds at the YMCA and is rewarded by the children’s excitement. “They say, ‘Karma’ let’s show my mom what I did today. Okay, ready 5, 6, 7,8… And it’s like three moves and their parents are so excited… Man, that’s what it’s about. That’s exactly what it’s about. I could do that for the rest of my life. I’d be happy because I’d be dancing and teaching somebody,” she says.
Perhaps Karma feels such a strong connection to her students because to follow her style is to follow her ultimate form of self-expression. In her words, “When I teach…I consider that art. When I get on the floor, yeah it’s just Zumba to some people, or it’s just Hip Hop… But it’s me. People say, ‘What’s your style?’… And I say, ‘Karma.'”
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