Teachers & Role Models

Rachelle Rak Wants Teachers to Remember This When Students Lose at Competition

Rak at the Dance Teacher Summit. Photo courtesy of Break The Floor Productions

Growing up at her mom's dance studio in Pittsburgh and being exposed to top choreographers on regular trips to New York City, Broadway veteran Rachelle Rak was practically groomed to be a professional dancer. She landed her first show in the national tour of Cats at age 17, and she hasn't stopped since. She was an original cast member of Fosse and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and was on the first national tour of Starlight Express.

Aside from her busy, not to mention impressive, performing career, she teaches master musical theater classes at studios and conventions across the country and has appeared as a panel judge on "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition."


Dance Teacher: What's something you've noticed from teaching around the country?

Rachelle Rak: It bothers me when a room full of students doesn't know, for instance, who Jerome Robbins is. That means we're not sharing the history of dance. This frustration triggered me to realize that dance history is so important and has to be continued. Not just through the Broadway revivals or shows in the style of, or taught only at conventions, but actually taught in the dance room at the studio. That's where we spend most of our time.

Photo courtesy of Break The Floor Productions

DT: Why isn't musical theater more popular with young dancers?

RR: If I see one more lyrical contemporary number where an 11-year-old is grabbing their face and looking tortured, I'm going to jump out of my skin. A dance teacher recently said to me, "Musical theater never wins overall," and I thought, "Who cares?" It's not always about winning. I don't want to knock teachers, because they have a full plate, but when I was a kid, I learned the most after losing at competition. I was trained to be resilient from my mom, to pick myself up, work harder and do better.

DT: How can teachers make it more appealing?

RR: The dance community needs to stay on top of what's going on with musical theater. It's no longer the Charleston and the tapper's time step; it's totally evolved. It's all over the map, from Hamilton to the Cats revival. We have to be the educators, the ones sharing the knowledge. None of the contemporary styles would have existed without the likes of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Jack Cole, Michael Bennett or Luigi. If you investigate Broadway, you can figure out a way to present musical theater in your school. Have a movie night and show your students clips from old musicals with Cyd Charisse, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. Give them inspiration, rather than presenting it as a bore.

Check out her demonstrating the "The Cell Block Tango" at the Dance Teacher Summit.


Related Articles Around the Web
Thinkstock

Q: My studio is growing quickly. I'd like to bring in someone to take over the majority of teaching and manage the curriculum and performance teams, while I run the business side. What's the best way to do this?

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio
Thinkstock

Most dancers are taught from a young age that no matter what happens onstage, the show must go on! Costume rips? Don't stop dancing. Forget the choreography? Don't stop dancing. Fall down? Get back up, but for the love of all things holy, don't stop dancing!

Anna White, teacher and studio director at Melinda Leigh Performing Arts Center in Mobile, Alabama, breaks down how she conveys this message to her students.

Keep reading... Show less
Videos

This month's winner is a lyrical piece to "Wounded Animal" by Mary Lambert, performed at the Turn It Up Dance Challenge. Before setting the movement, Ashley Zelano, choreographer and artistic director at the Fierce Dance Academy in New Castle, Delaware, took a cautious approach with the 11 teenage dancers. The song describes the despair felt in a relationship where one party can't fully commit. But she understood that her teenage students might not relate to what inspires her as an adult.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Nathalie Van Empel, courtesy of BYU CFAC

It's been a good month for choreographer and teacher Nick Palmquist. While he's been on DT's radar for quite some time, he burst onto the social-media scene in late November when the biggest professional ballet stars in the country participated in the #nickpalmquistchallenge. Prompted by Palmquist's choreography, stars from Marcelo Gomes to Stella Abrera were digging into the sultry stylized movement of the Steps on Broadway commercial jazz teacher, and sharing it on social media. He now has 38.4K followers and counting.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Keren Kraizer, courtesy of Assaf

As a child—with no formal dance training—Roy Assaf knew the transformative power of an audience. Starting from the age of 5, he would prepare dances for family gatherings. "I remember that all the guests would form a circle around me," he says, "and I would execute what I had prepared for that event." Now, as one of the most exciting and wholly original choreographic voices today, Assaf has harnessed that ability to transfix onlookers by creating straight-from-the-gut, highly physical dances that intimate complex inner narratives. The bodies in his Israel-based company weave, rebound, change direction, pant heavily and always move with purpose.

His newest work premiered December 6–10 in New York City. This time, instead of choreographing on his core company of a handful of dancers, he created a work on all 24 of the Juilliard third-year dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

Q: I'm looking to hire new instructors. How can I create a competitive job listing?

A: We've found the best way to attract qualified applicants for teaching positions at our studio is to be as specific as possible with our expectations, while communicating what makes our studio a great place to work.

Here's an example of a job description we've used when seeking teachers:

Lead Dance Instructor: Tap/Jazz/Contemporary; Choreography for Dance Teams.

Kathy Blake Dance Studios is seeking new instructors to join our faculty. Our performing arts school, located in the Souhegan Valley of New Hampshire, has an emphasis on excellence and love for the art of dance, with a student base aged 2 to adult. We pride ourselves on paying our teachers well, offering a professionally managed front office and fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration among our staff.

We have an immediate opening for a dance instructor whose specialty is teaching intermediate to advanced tap, jazz and/or contemporary, as well as choreographing for competitive dance teams. We are seeking a creative, forward-thinking teacher who brings out the best in dancers. Schedule of 5 to 10-plus classes a week, based on availability. Position begins in August (or sooner, based on teacher availability). The school year runs from September through June. Pay is competitive and commensurate with experience and credentials.

Interested instructors: Please e-mail or reply to this ad with a current resumé and phone number, as well as what you love about teaching and what matters most to you in working for a dance studio.

Can't teach on our regular schedule? Please let us know if you'd like to be considered for our guest-artist master-class events.

Kathy Blake (Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire) and Suzanne Blake Gerety co-founded DanceStudioOwner.com.

popular
Thinkstock

These four holiday dance videos are the break you need from the madness of the season. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be recharged enough to dive back into another night of Nutcracker performances. (Yikes—hang in there guys!) Check 'em out, and share your favorite funny holiday dance videos with us on our Facebook page.

XOXO

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored