Rak as Sheila in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of A Chorus Line (Jerry Dalia)
Rachelle Rak is the quintessential Broadway gypsy. Over the course of her 25-year career, she’s had featured parts in everything from Fosse to Oklahoma! on the Great White Way, as well as leads in a myriad of off-Broadway shows. (You probably also saw her courageous, though ultimately heartbreaking, audition for the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line in the documentary Every Little Step.) Whatever the role, whatever the venue, she lives to be onstage.
Rak trained from the age of 2 with her mother, Rosalene Kenneth, at the Rosalene Kenneth Dance Studio in Pittsburgh, PA. When she was still in high school, she went to an open call for the national tour of Cats—and booked the job. It didn’t take long for her to become a familiar face on the musical theater circuit.
Today, in addition to performing, she teaches in NYC, gives master classes throughout the U.S. and U.K. and judges for Access Broadway and Dance Educators of America. She’ll be back in the Broadway spotlight this summer as Tess in the new production of Flashdance: The Musical. —Margaret Fuhrer
Rak as a young student
I want to let you know that I am here for you. You are loved. That will count for so much as you grow up. When you doubt yourself, jump in. When you are tired, push harder. And when you need to rest, rest.
Winning a medal is a great accomplishment, but don’t let it become everything. Titles hold no real truth about you. Don’t think of yourself as only a dancer—you are so much more.
When your mother buys you a piano and piano lessons, don’t quit. Learn about music. It’s a language you will want to understand—it will become a big part of your future. Embrace it and don’t be intimidated by it. Start harmonizing now. Oh, and focus more in English class, too. Mr. Fazio is a great teacher.
You have great drive and passion. They might disguise themselves sometimes as a need for stardom and fame, but don’t be fooled. There’s so much more out there to do and love. And when you do start having those life-changing days, breathe, say a little prayer and then go for it. Full-out. Don’t ever mark.
Your mom is in your corner. Be a sponge. She will teach you so many wonderful things. Don’t fight it; just listen. Can you tell by now that you may not always want to listen? Haha. But really, listen to your parents. They love you and want what’s best for you.
Have a lot of tricks in your back pocket. Start roller skating and learning poi balls now. And remember: “A cartwheel cut-through is always a crowd pleaser.”
Don’t let anyone put you down or hurt you. Keep God close, and when you lose sight of him, always remember that he is with you. And for your own good, try not to be so bossy.
I love you,
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.