Meet Karen

Karen L. Watkins-Rios

Biographical Information

Karen L. Watkins-Rios began her dance training at age three at the School of the Richmond Ballet in Richmond, Virginia, under the direction of Ms. Barbara Rassel, formerly of the Ballet Russe in New York City. While at the school, Mrs. Watkins-Rios was given opportunities to study under dance masters such as Mr. Arnott Mader The Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet’s VioletteVerdy and Leslie Peck, and American Ballet Theatre’s Christine Busch.

At age 18, after completing one year as a National Competitive Scholar at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Watkins-Rios was invited by Arthur Mitchell to complete her training in classical ballet at the prestigious Dance Theatre of Harlem Professional School in New York City, where she was also exposed to modern and ethnic genres as well as being offered opportunities to participate with the company in performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Upon her return to Howard University, Mrs. Watkins-Rios studied jazz under Mr. Pepsi Bethel, one of the founders of American jazz, Mrs. Sandra Fortune, Varna Silver Medal Winner, and Steve Rooks, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Mrs. Watkins-Rios received high honors graduating cum laude with a B.A. in Communications and Dance Minor.

After graduation, Mrs. Watkins-Rios became a senior company member of the Asaph Dance Ensemble, under the auspices of the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship in Washington, D.C. where she danced as a soloist for five years. Her credits over the years have included favorites such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty as well as classical and choral pieces such as Handel’s Messiah, the Mozart Requiem, the Brahm’s Requiem, and the Bach Magnificat. One of her personal highlights was being invited to dance with the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship in the 1996 Christmas Celebrations in Israel for Prime Minister Yassir Arafat.

In 1998, Mrs. Watkins-Rios left Northern Virginia to take over as owner and artistic director of Bright Lights Performing Arts Studio in Chesapeake. In September of 2004, Ms. Watkins-Rios joined the faculty of Regent University as an adjunct professor for the MA and MFA Music Theatre program in the School of Communications and in 2006, Ms. Watkins-Rios founded the Suffolk Ballet Performing Company and School of Suffolk Ballet training academy. Her credits include the original choreography, story and performance in Clara’s Christmas Gift, Three Women At the Cross, and opening for international historian and commentator Clay Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson to benefit the Suffolk Center for Hope and New Beginnings.

Ms. Watkins-Rios returned to Richmond in the summer of 2007, where she began to offer dance classes and work with churches to assist in developing liturgical and worship dance programs. In March of 2009, she began to work both nationally and internationally to build programs to enhance and build into the lives of children. Within that capacity, Mrs. Watkins-Rios began work at All-Saints Catholic School in Richmond, Virginia and began to work with the Highland Support Project Mayan Arts Program to develop a comprehensive dance program in Quetzalcantenango, Guatemala where children in the pueblos of Cantale and the township of “Chi-Chi” are taught classical techniques to enrich their native dance offerings.

In 2012, Ms. Watkins-Rios founded The Dance Candle Academy of Sacred and Performing Arts. Its mission is continue to combine the elegance, excellence, grace and artistry of technique with the heart, passion, conviction and soul of worship. Students of all ages are trained to honor God with movement and learn the beauty of living a lifestyle of worship. She continues to perform as a freelance artist, specializing in classical ballet, jazz/modern, liturgical and worship and most recently flamenco dancing in professional local venues as well. Some of her students have gone on to be accepted into professional dance companies such as North Carolina Dance Theatre, and Virginia Ballet Theatre as well as summer intensive programs such as the School of the Richmond Ballet (Richmond, VA), School of the American Ballet (New York City), the Joffrey School (Chicago) and the Kirov School (Washington DC) as scholarship recipients and have continued to master their technique and artistry.