top of page


Published Works, Interviews/In The Media,

Public Speaking, Teaching & Leadership, Performances 

Published Works

(Writing & Photography)


The Los Angeles Times

“The Art Of Idling” by Rachel Sarah Thurston,

photo credit Karen Custer Thurston

April 2006


Atlas Obscura

“The Most Memorable Strangers You’ve Met While Traveling”


October 2018


ISAMETD (the Indiana Association of Middle Eastern Dancers) monthly newsletters

Editor and Contributor 



The Beautiful Santa Ynez Valley by Rachel Sarah Thurston

book jacket head shot photo credit by Karen Custer Thurston



The Arizona Daily Sun

“A Journey To Sheepdog Trials In Colorado”

September 2001

Hunting In Arizona Magazine

“Paradise Valley Beagles In Flagstaff” story and photos by Karen Custer Thurston

November 2013

The Wabash Plain Dealer

“Daughter Wins Reserve ‘Best In Show’ For Late Mother”

story and photos 

by Karen Custer Thurston

October 2018


Covertside Magazine

“Hunting Across The Big Pond” by Karen Custer Thurston

Covertside Magazine

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” photo contributor


In The Media

Travelers Tales Publication

"Mama Chihuahua: World's Fiercest Travel Partner"

humor travel story about Karen Custer Thurston

written by Rachel Sarah Thurston.

What Color Is Your Jockstrap? Funny Men And Women Write From The Road

May 2006

Arizona Daily Sun

“Porters In Nepal Need Winter Clothing” 

July 2003​

Arizona Daily Sun

“Community Thanks” contributor

Arizona Daily Sun

“Bollywood Movies Catch Fire”

February 2007


Arizona Daily Sun

“Flagstaff’s 21st Labor Day Art In The Park Offers Easy Interaction With Artists”

August 2013


Flagstaff 365

“Downtown Friday Nights: Al Rakasaat And Steve Elowson”


Arizona Daily Sun

“Modern Version Of ‘Nutcracker’ Brings Authentic Flair”

December 2016



Public Speaking/Presenting

“Around The World With The Thurston Girls” co-presenter with Rachel Sarah Thurston at the historic

Santa Barbara Woman’s Club 

January 2019


“Around The World In 13 Years With The Thurston Girls” National Webinar Interview by Ingrid Sarrat with Karen Custer Thurston and Rachel Sarah Thurston



Presentation of travel writing piece “Haunting Eyes” about Nepali adventures at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona for the English Graduate Organization “Peaks” program



“Hunting and Horseback Riding On The Colorado Plateau” multimedia presentation for The Northern Hunt Club in Tasmania, Australia



Annual Co-Host, Speaker/Emcee/Master of Ceremonies, Event Organizer for the INDY International Dance Festival, Indianapolis.  Served as emcee/announcer, organized dance groups from around the world on multiple stages, Master Of Ceremonies for performers for 5 day global festival.



Led Public Presentations and Hikes for the

National Park Service at:

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Flagstaff, AZ

Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the border of Texas and New Mexico


*Serving as both an SCA (Student Conservation Association) intern and then as full-time National Park Service Ranger, Karen gave daily talks to park visitors on the geography, volcanology, wildlife, and Native American culture of Northern Arizona.


& Leadership


47 years of professional teaching in 12 categories of Fitness/Wellness and Dance Classes

Avon Schools (Avon, IN), 

Private Dance and Fitness Studio in (Zionsville, IN), 

ISAMEDT Haflias (IN)

Olney Community College (Olney, IL)

 Coconino Community College (Flagstaff, AZ)

Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, AZ)



Owner, Manager, and Instructor at The Studio (Zionsville, IN)

Led and taught classes for the local community, managed a staff of fitness, weight training, wellness, and dance teachers



Fitness Instructor/Consultant for the International YWCA ENCORE program for breast cancer survivors and served on the Board of Directors.  


Faculty/Professor at Northern Arizona University 

For Fitness (cardio and strength building), Middle Eastern, and Bollywood Dance Classes



Faculty/Professor at Coconino Community College 

For Fitness (cardio and strength building), Middle Eastern, and Bollywood Dance Classes



Co-Founder, President, Founding Member of ISAMETD (Indiana State Association of Middle Eastern Teachers and Dancers)



Visiting Guest Artist In Indiana with Roxanna Santoro

Teaching Middle Eastern Dance choreography and percussion 

Indianapolis, IN




Middle Eastern, Bollywood, and Drumming

47 years of performance as a Middle Eastern/Turkish Egyptian Dancer and Choreographer at top venues 

in the Midwest and Southwestern United States

Indianapolis International Dance Festival, ISAMEDT Haflias, 4th Street Art Festival, 

Public School System (IN),

Middle Eastern and Greek Restaurants,

Art In The Park Summer Festival (Flagstaff, AZ),

Northern Arizona University Theatre, 

Wheeler Park, Peaks Senior Living Facility (AZ),

Flagstaff Downtown Business Association Heritage Square, and Private Events. 


Founder, Director, and Lead Choreographer for 

Al Rakasaat Middle Eastern Dance Troupe

Based in Flagstaff, Arizona


Performed at Flagstaff’s top venues: 

Theatre, NAU, Heritage Park, Wheeler Park


Co-Founder and Performer for ISAMEDT ( Indiana Association Of Middle Eastern Dancers)



Performer at the Indianapolis International Festival


Education And Certifications:

IDEA Health and Fitness Association

Member since 1985 

Masters of Science in Physical Education/Education

Graduated from Butler University

Indianapolis, Indiana


Bachelor of Arts (Physical Education Major/English Minor) 

Graduated from Purdue University

West Lafayette, Indiana



Contact Me:

Photo Credits:

Rachel Sarah Thurston: Pic #2, #6, #8-#11

Heather Swan, Liberty Shots: Pic #1

National Park Service photographer Pic #7


Karen Custer Thurston, The Woman On Fire, is a world traveler, writer, motivational speaker, fitness trainer, belly dancer, equestrian and trauma survivor who inspires women and men to live with joy and passion.

Karen and daughter Rachel Sarah Thurston codirect the travel project

“Around The World With The Thurston Girls” following their mother-daughter adventures. 

bottom of page