Local dancer pens a memoir

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 6/7/22

When Kara Tatelbaum was quite young, she embarked on a long journey to become a dancer. Now as an adult she has penned a memoir highlighting the joys, frustrations, challenges, disappointments and …

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Local dancer pens a memoir


When Kara Tatelbaum was quite young, she embarked on a long journey to become a dancer. Now as an adult she has penned a memoir highlighting the joys, frustrations, challenges, disappointments and insights that she has gathered along the way that is entitled, “Putting My Heels Down: a memoir of having a dream and a day job.”

Kara grew up in Poughkeepsie and is the daughter of Ronald and Shelley Tatelbaum of Milton. She laughs when recalling that at age 3 her mother signed her up for ballet classes at a local dance school, “like every other mom in the country puts her daughter into baby ballet classes.” When she was a little older Kara attended the Ballet Arts Studio in Beacon.

In her senior year of high school, Kara took the train into New York City one day a week to attend classes at the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.

Kara earned her BFA in Dance as a University Honors Scholar from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and a MFA in Choreography with a Teaching Assistantship from the Conservatory of Dance from SUNY Purchase.

Kara said when she lived in Poughkeepsie, “I was a big fish in a small pond” but described her transition to NYC as, “very intense and I grew from being a ballet dancer to being a modern dancer and choreographer, so it really opened me up as an artist.”

Kara said to be a professional ballet dancer there is a very specific body type that is appropriate for this discipline. She said her teachers instead encouraged her to explore modern dance, “which is very different from ballet, no ballet shoes, hair down and much more free.”

Kara said the title, ‘Putting My Heels Down,’ came about, “because all of my teachers through my childhood would scream at me to put my heels down when I jumped up in the air. My Achilles tendon was so tight I couldn’t bend my knees and put my foot fully on the floor, so there was no cushioning to the landing.” This eventually led to two hip surgeries, which she chronicles in her memoir. She points out that her body is not particularly flexible, which is something that runs counter to success as a ballet dancer.

“A ballet body is something that you’re born with or you’re not and I was just not born with it; that was just not me,” she said.

Kara remembers when she and her classmates were little girls sitting on the ground with legs outstretched, all of her classmates could easily touch their toes while she could barely reach past her knees. She did not fully realize the implications of this until later as she began to understand how much physical pain she experienced when dancing; “I thought everyone was feeling that, but they weren’t.”

Kara began teaching Pilates, because she needed a day job.

“I got certified in Pilates so I could teach it and that would be my day job, my money-maker,” she said. She described Pilates as a series of repeated exercises done in a specific way that focuses on strengthening the body’s core abdominal muscles. It was developed in the early 20th century by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates.

Kara has always loved to dance but felt inner conflict and turmoil as she matured. Though she was helping people in her Pilates classes, which flourished, she found herself putting less effort into it, while her dancing career was being eclipsed by a body that she had no control over. When she hit 30 she knew she had to make a decision, “about who I was going to be as a dancer, if I was going to continue to even dance or be a choreographer.”

Today, Kara forgoes teaching large classes, but, “I enjoy working with clients one-on-one as I feel I am able to give and to receive in a way that I wasn’t able to teaching tons and tons of group classes.”

Kara said she met her future husband Shane who was a student in one of her classes. She laughs when recalling his reason for taking the class because, “I think it was a way for him to probably meet girls at his office.” The couple married in 2009 and now have two children, ages six and eight.

Kara has been doing readings from her book at various bookstores, including recently at Barnes & Nobel in Poughkeepsie. She recounts for attendees a fond memory about her father spontaneously taking her to an opera at Lincoln Center in New York after one of her dance classes. The two were not quite dressed for the occasion, with her father in his golf clothes after a day on the links while Kara still had her dance outfit on. This elicited a comment they overheard at intermission; either they were really rich or really poor to come to the opera dressed like that. Her father broke out laughing, while Kara felt mortified, but is quick to say she absorbed a valuable lesson from this singular incident.

“I learned from that experience that sometimes the best can just happen and you don’t have to try so hard,” she said. “What I am trying to convey in the book is that it’s not just a dance memoir [but] we can all relate to not having our dreams work out the way that we thought they were going to. It’s the juxtaposition of working so hard and trying so hard to achieve our dreams while also being open to letting things happen sometimes.”

In 2020 Kara also earned her certification as a Wellness and Resilience Coach from the Academy for Creative Coaching where her goal is to help people, “bounce back from life’s storms that may hit us and how to change our dreams and how to be open to changing the dream.”

Kara said twenty years from now she hopes to be working with dancers and non-dancers, “on dreaming bigger and being able to use my book as a stepping stone and also as a tool to be able to support others.” To that end she is contemplating writing a companion volume entitled ‘Putting Your Heels Down’ and using her coaching skills to devise a journal book for others to process the themes in her memoir.

Kara describes her outlook today.

“Where my book ends is me maybe not being 100% at peace, but being more open to what possibilities could be outside of my life as a dancer,” she said. “My life after the memoir has taken tremendous turns that forced me to get over myself as I had to be there for other people [husband and children] in a way that made me have to step out of myself.”

Kara’s book came out on April 29, which is International Dance Day, and is published by Motina Books of Van Alstyne, Texas.

Kara will be doing a reading and signing this Sunday, June 12, at Hudson Valley Books for Humanity at 67 Central Ave in Ossining from 4 - 5:30 p.m. You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook.