Karen Gabay was born in San Diego and trained at the California Ballet School and the School of American Ballet. She made her professional debut at the age of eighteen as a principal dancer with the Cleveland San Jose Ballet (later Ballet San Jose/Silicon Valley). Gabay's repertory includes many principal roles such as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the title role in Giselle, and Swanilda in Coppélia. The role of Juliet in Dennis Nahat’s Romeo & Juliet was created especially for her. She has also danced leading roles in the works of Agnes de Mille, Anthony Tudor, George Balanchine, José Limón, Fleming Flindt, Ben Stevenson, and Twyla Tharp. As an invited guest artist, she has danced with Chautauqua Dance and has worked with Violette Verdy and Patricia McBride.
At Ballet San Jose/Silicon Valley, Gabay was not only a principal dancer but also held the position of répétiteur. She taught and led rehearsals for the company and assisted various choreographers in staging their ballets. In 2012, she choreographed and premiered the company’s new production of The Nutcracker. Gabay has received the Artist Fellowship Award for Choreography from the Arts Council Silicon Valley and has been nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award. After her retirement from the stage in 2013, she was appointed artistic associate at Ballet San Jose/Silicon Valley, became an ABT certified teacher, and authored The Nutcracker: A Story in Verse. As a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) member, Gabay works on various projects in film and television. She is also the founding artistic director of Pointe of Departure.