Karen Dass is a multi-talented woman whose physical height belies her potential to be fierce and aggressive when deemed necessary.
Her early life was filled with many personal challenges but she chose not to be a victim, but instead to persevere, and, just like learning and performing intricate dance steps, she plod her route to becoming a success story.
Dass, hesitantly said, "It was definitely tough but I don't usually talk about it."
The last of four children, she grew up in a "cultured" home with a father who was a teacher and a Hindu priest. "Yup! I can speak a bit of conversational Hindi, but mind you, I am by no means a fluent speaker of Hindi."
At school, where she was a student of Pure Science, Dass readily admits that she was "certainly not part of the in-crowd. I wasn't concerned with the latest hairdo or fashion trend, video or movie. My focus was on my studies and being there for my family."
Once an introvert, she reveals, "I am now quite the extrovert, and very talkative." "Girl, I used to get 'licks' for talking too much when I was younger. Seriously, so boo to my teachers from school now! I get paid to talk now," she added almost choking with uncontrollable laughter.
Referring to her career path, she admitted that she almost chose a path because of an indirect tradition. "My parents and sister were teachers so I felt that maybe that's what I should be. I was also interested in medicine but by the time I had completed sixth form, I knew that I didn't have what was needed for science."
Dass has since chartered her course within the entertainment indus-try. "I grew up close to the arts and I actually started playing the piano at age 14. I also play the keyboard. My father has tried unsuccessfully to get me to play the mandolin. Hmmmm. Music is an important part of me. I have an eclectic taste in music and during my years in radio, I played from chutney to rock. I do love the classic stuff though; the old music."
A radio announcer for the past 12 years, Dass has been employed at several radio stations, the latest one being 95.1 F.M. The Best Mix. She is also the familiar voice used in many voice-overs.
It is amazing, the transition of her normal voice to the one that is so revered among her colleagues and yes, advertising clients alike. When you hear her speak in a casual setting, the only possible description you can use is "cute" but her tone virtually 'morphs' into a strong, cultured voice that is worthy of being on the air.
Dass stands at 4ft 5in. Noting my shock at just how short she was, she countered before collapsing into giggles, "Hey! I'll have you know that with stilettos, I am 4'8", okay?"
A dancer since the age of nine, she joined the Prem Jyoti Dance Academy where she stayed for eight years. She then advanced to a higher level, hosting her first solo concert at Queen's Hall last year. That concert was actually the first full-fledged Kuchipudi dance concert in Trinidad and Tobago.
When she first mentioned Kuchipudi, with my subsequent failed attempts to pronounce it correctly, she broke it down. "You know, 'koochie' like 'koochie, koochie koo' with a baby? Then 'poodi' like dhalpurie." Giggling, she playfully defended herself. "Well, that's the easiest way I know how to break it down for people!" Describing more, she explained patiently, "It is theatrical and full of drama. Our make-up is very heavy because there are a lot of facial expressions and this make-up helps to emote that."
Kuchpudi, pronounced "koo-chee-poo-dee", is a form of classical Indian dance from Andhra Pradesh, India and is performed to Carnatic music The songs in Kuchipudi are mimed with alluring expressions , swift looks and fleeting emotions.
Referring to her solo concert, she was quite pleased with herself. Beaming, she declared, "That was a major coup for me."
About her experience, she said, "I was doing another form of dance with Krishna Persad in my early years and then felt that I had reached a glass ceiling so I decided to try the Kuchipudi with Rajesh Seenath. I advanced much faster that I thought I would and I loved the challenge. People are not familiar with this form of dance and I felt that I could sensitise people about it by having the concert. It was phenomenal!"
About her goals, Dass was focused. "I would like to have my own dance school one day and while I want to teach Indian classical dance, I believe in integrating everyone. My class will be open to all persons. We are one people."
Dass has already accomplished a major goal as one of the few dancers and the only female to reach a high level of the Kuchipudi dance locally. Her integrity, compassion and enthusiasm continue to propel her further.
In spite of her public life and success via her jobs, she does prefer the background. "I like to fall back and not be too visible unless I'm performing." Whether she likes it or not, the bets are on that Dass will be at the forefront of many persons' minds for a long time to come.