Trending

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
News
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

The Dance Magazine Awards aren't just a celebration of the people who shape the dance field—they're a unique educational opportunity and a chance for dancers to see their idols up close.

Keep reading... Show less
Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi (Courtesy Leap!)

Since its inaugural season in 2012, Leap! National Dance Competition has been all about the little things.

"I wanted to have a 'boutique' competition. One where we went out to only one city every weekend, so I could be there myself, and we could really get to know the teachers and watch their kids progress from year to year," says Leap! executive director Drew Vamosi. According to Vamosi, thoughtful details make all the difference, especially during a global pandemic that's thrown many dancers' typical comp-season schedules for a loop. That's why Leap! prides itself on features like its professional-quality set design, as well as its one-of-a-kind leaping competition, where dancers can show off their best tricks for special cash and merchandise prizes.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

The term "body shaming" might bring up memories of that instructor from your own training who made critical remarks about—or even poked and prodded—dancers' bodies.

Thankfully, we're (mostly) past the days when authority figures felt free to openly mock a dancer's appearance. But body shaming remains a toxic presence in the studio, says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, psychologist for Atlanta Ballet: "It's just more hidden and more subtle." Here's how to make sure your teaching isn't part of the problem.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.