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Kasson woman raises the 'barre' as Miss Minnesota

Michaelene Karlen, 23, says she’s honored to be Miss Minnesota and to have the opportunity to compete for the Miss America title. But what she’s most excited about is the platform the title gives her for promoting something very close to her...

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Michaelene Karlen, who was recently crowned Miss Minnesota 2018, gets a hug from 3-year-old Greta Schmitz, of Kasson, on Tuesday during an event congratulating Karlen at Daniel’s Restaurant. "My heart is full," Karlen said of the crowd that came out to congratulate her.
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Michaelene Karlen is a professional dancer and a small business owner.

She’s also, as of June 16, the newly crowned Miss Minnesota 2018.

Karlen, 23, says she’s honored to be Miss Minnesota and to have the opportunity to compete for the Miss America title. But what she’s most excited about is the platform the title gives her for promoting something very close to her heart: teaching professional dance.

In September 2017, she started a series of dance workshops called Raise the Barre as part of her preparation for the competition. Through Raise the Barre, Karlen teaches workshops to students at schools and disability centers, introducing them to professional dance, many of them for the first time.

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"It’s a pun on the ballet bar," Karlen said of the name for her project. "It’s about bringing it up another level. I want to help students gain all these skills that I gained through dance and to raise their own bar through the art of dance."

So far, Karlen has taught more than 1,500 students at 18 different schools and disability centers in Southeast Minnesota. Her one-hour workshops teach the basic elements of dance to students of all genders, ages and abilities.

"It’s not a typical dance class," Karlen said. "I work with everyone."

She said she was inspired to start Raise the Barre because she wanted to show that "dance is for everyone." Karlen has been dancing since she was three and now hopes to be a mentor and role model to Raise the Barre students.

"I wanted to take my career as a professional dancer and my entrepreneurial drive as a small business owner and give back to my state through my art and my passion, which is dance," she said.

Karlen currently dances with the Alternative Motion Project in Minneapolis, a contemporary dance company, and runs her own hand-crafted skincare business, Ballerina Botanicals, with her mother, Michelle Karlen.

Michaelene Karlen discovered her passion for dancing the hard way: by not being able to do it. Twice, in both fifth and sixth grades, she broke both of her feet, keeping her out of the studio.

"I was devastated to not be able to dance during those two years," Karlen said. "I had to work very hard on physical therapy and taking care of my body to get back to dance."

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Being healthy enough to dance was also a challenge for Karlen in college. During her freshman year at The Ailey School at Fordham University in New York City, her normally mild asthma made it difficult to walk a block without becoming breathless. She was later diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, which caused her to react poorly to certain substances, including beauty products.

"I took a step back to find out what I can put in my body and what I can put on my skin, which is very different for me than it is for most people," Karlen said.

But she never wavered from her goal of becoming a professional dancer. Now that she’s enjoyed that success, Karlen wants to pay it forward to her community by teaching other students to love dance.

During her year as Miss Minnesota, she’ll be touring the state to teach Raise the Barre workshops at schools, after school programs and disability centers. She’ll also hold benefit concerts to give Raise the Barre students the chance to perform on stage. These will also raise money for scholarships to allow interested students to continue dancing at local studios.

The Miss America competition will be held in Atlantic City Sept. 5-9.

In the meantime, she’s returned home to Kasson to prepare. She was welcomed home with a reception and homecoming celebration by her friends, family and the rest of the Kasson community on Tuesday night.

"I’m so excited to be Miss Minnesota," Karlen said, "and I cannot wait to get my year started."

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