Karen Pearlman began her career as a professional dancer. She received her initial training at Washington University, St Louis after which she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) in dance at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. During the early 1980s she danced with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company and with Timothy Buckley’s Companies. In 1985 she began a long-standing creative partnership with Richard James Allen, with whom she founded the successful New York based performance company That Was Fast. In 1995-1997 she and Allen worked as artistic directors of the Tasmanian dance company Tasdance. In 1997 she and Allen then established Physical TV, an award-winning film and television production company which specialises in realising dance and physical theatre for the screen.
In 2001 Pearlman completed a MA in Editing from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, and in 2002 completed a MA in Media Arts and Production from the University of Technology, Sydney. She subsequently completed a PhD in Creative Arts, also at the University of Technology, Sydney. Since 2001 Pearlman has worked as an editor, post-production supervisor, sound designer, director, writer, performer, choreographer, and digital designer in a range of dance films. Pearlman currently teaches at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, where she is Head of Screen Studies.