Soulsa® Founder Karen Gibson’s inspirational story

Soulsa®, one of our member organisations was recently voted Dance Based Workout of the year 2021and its Founder, Karen Gibson, won Female Fitness Instructor of the year 2021at the FitPro Awards.

On hearing that Karen also won the Presenter award at the Community Fitness Awards and was runner up in the Regional Instructor – Scotland category, we just had to find out what inspired her.

Karen, who lives in a small town near Aberdeen, had always been a Highland dancer, taking part in competitive events from the age of 10, subsequently finding that dance fitness was her real passion.

Karen was a young mum and then a single mum and felt very strongly that she wanted to show that even as a young mum she could be ambitious.  There was an element of ‘I’ll show you’ about her fitness journey.

Karen firstly studied for an Exercise to Music (now Group Training to Music) qualification with Fitness Scotland and began teaching classes in 2007.  She gradually built up a ‘lovely fitness family’ with her classes and also opened a children’s/teens’ dance school where she created a community that included everyone.  Her mantra was ‘Every child is a star and deserves the chance to shine’.  Karen’s classes were friendly, welcoming, catered for all fitness levels and she made sure everyone felt comfortable being there – and also gave everyone the chance to be in the front row for their moment of stardom.

Having felt very strongly that she wanted to be a fitness trainer, Karen had never imagined that she would have her own fitness studio.  After 10 years of working hard and building a good client base she finally managed it.  However, Karen’s son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and needed more care from her plus, in 2015, she was diagnosed with ME and went from teaching 16 classes a week to being bed-bound, and so unfortunately had to give up the studio,

Karen’s gradual return to fitness was a long slow process and she found that Pilates was very helpful in her recovery.  This prompted her to qualify as a Pilates instructor and as she gained in fitness she felt she had been given another chance, which she seized with both hands.  Returning to her love of dance fitness, Karen began teaching dance fitness classes with simple choreography to music she loved, mainly soul music.  The ‘anything goes’ ethos meant that she added Latin, pop and then  Afro Beats as well.  She was very keen to ensure that her classes were inclusive by gradually building up the choreography and used a different approach with the ‘baseline’ being low impact with options to move to higher impact.

Next steps for Karen were to trademark her new concept and think of a suitable name.  Starting off with just £50 she bought some mini tambourines and advertised her classes locally.  Only three people turned up to the first class and although Karen was disheartened, she had a vision for Soulsa® and didn’t want to give up.  She added more classes and Soulsa® grew to be the biggest classes of all the programs she taught.

Karen also works with some local communities where she gives talks for local teen mums or struggling teens and enjoys being able to give them some encouragement based on her own experiences.  In the future she would like to set up a charity to further this work which is important to her.  Karen is also proud that Afro Beats Head Choreographer Kelvin Petrelli joined the Soulsa® family.  He is based in Nairobi, Kenya and also helps young teen mums in his locality.

Things started to really happen for Karen after she attended an International Fitness  virtual showcase in Blackpool in March 2020.  She later joined CFN and other virtual and charity events, like our classfinder virtual event, and seeing some of the other brands there prompted her to think that her own brand was just as good.

Karen also took part in some FitJAM charity events and has now received the Dance Based Workout of the year 2021 at the FitPro Awards, closely followed by the Community Fitness Awards recognition.

Karen’s inspiration and from whom she inherited her ‘dancing feet’, was her Granny Annie who was one of her biggest supporters until she died in March 2020, and who Karen now feels is her guardian angel.  Karen wanted to prove herself and make her proud.

Karen’s tips for success are to just keep going even when life is hard and never give up, especially if you have a dream.  She feels that her hard work and perseverance has paid off and says this has been the most amazing year of her life.

Looking to the future, Karen would like to build on the Soulsa® brand and offer kids’ classes, seated choreography and also sensory classes suitable for people living with autism or similar.

You can find more information on the Soulsa® brand and instructor training opportunities here