DANCE: ‘Ultimate Dance’ Judge Rachelle Rak Brings Broadway ‘Sas’ to Reality TV
At a glance, Rachelle Rak‘s bio points to one of the hardest working, high-kicking forces of nature on Broadway. She’s smart, sexy and full of trademark Sas-isms you’ll find hard to resist. Starting out as a young dancer, the tough-as-nails Pittsburgh native honed razor-sharp survival instincts over the course of her career, rolling with the punches as they came and ready when opportunity knocked. It’s a balancing act most face in the business, Rak says.
Known for stage presence and prowess, Rak has wowed audiences in Cats, Fosse, Catch Me If You Can, Oklahoma! and numerous productions abroad. Currently, you can catch her in action as a judge on the second season of Lifetime’s popular show, Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition. Well-versed in life lessons, she talks about what led up to the new gig in this Q&A with Tania Fuentez Media.
TFM: Your impressive resume includes being a part of Dance Moms, perhaps one of the most popular and talked about reality competitions on TV now. What do you hope to achieve in this role? And, what did you expect going into it?
RR: Well, to be honest, I was guest on Dance Moms (Episode 13 of last season), and I thought I was flying in to teach the girls a dance in the style of Flashdance _ the early 80s, and at the last minute they had to change that idea and asked me to teach something in the style of Fosse. Now, if you are not a dancer that is not something you usually teach and master with anyone in a few hours, especially kids. But, we all worked very hard and we did our best.
Now, if you have or have not seen the episode, you should know that I am not the type of teacher that takes any child out of a number at the last minute and when I saw the girls a second time and one of them was no longer in the number, Mackenzie, I put her back in where she belonged. They did a wonderful job, and win or lose, I was proud of them for taking on the style of Fosse. That was my experience on Dance Moms. I had fun and the girls worked hard. The night it aired I guess a lot of people watched and my website blew up. The next day I was called to see if I was interested in auditioning /interview for the new judge position on Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition and here we are today.
TFM: Broadway isn’t necessarily for everyone. Best advice you’ve been given as a performer over the years? And, what’s the best advice you can give someone venturing down this road?
RR: Broadway, film, television, music. It’s all hard. I mean hard. The overnight success can be seen as reality since we see it on television but for the other 98 percent, it’s all sacrifice. I say this because you leave everything you love to achieve it. You leave your family, your home and you pack your bags and all of your will and strength and you go wherever you need to go to pursue this dream. If you don’t have that fearless attitude you should reconsider your other options. I say if there is any other job or career you are interested in go and do it. This life is in reality sacrifice, desire, love and a lot of disappointment but, the one YES is worth it all to me.
TFM: If it weren’t for dance, where would you be? When did you know this was exactly where you belonged?
RR: I am a dancer, singer, actress, choreographer. I started out as a dancer. It’s in my DNA. There has never been a moment that I can ever remember that I was too tired to practice or perform. The love of dance ran my life. I played basketball and I was on the drill team but, any show, anywhere in Pittsburgh when I was growing up I wanted to be in it and I loved it. For me, I was around 10 when I started to really know the stage was the only place for me and since my mom knew I had to sing and dance I started seriously studying voice at the age of 13. Work ethic is what I need to say to the younger generation. You can do it but, it is not just overnight it is hours and days and years of endless willingness.
TFM: You’re a dynamo on stage and light up the screen naturally. Has there been a moment when you had to slow things down and take a break? Why is that equally important to recognize regardless what path we’re on in life?
RR: Well, thank you. I love what I do. I am passionate about all of it and life in general. I have always been made fun of a bit because I never mark. That means I am always full-out and that can get on others nerves … hahaha. But, I can only be me and that means all of me.
I have had some injuries in my life that stopped me in my tracks and fear that I would never dance again but, I took care of myself and my PT Jen Greene helped me to get my hip back, and that was in 2002, and here I am. I fell 12 feet into an elevator lift during a tech rehearsal and I survived, thank God. I have had my share of physical pain and the emotional pain. When you don’t get hired and your get so close you can just taste it or imagine your name in that cast, it can crush you. You have to live for more than show business. I have a good family and friends and I choose to surround myself with positive energy. It’s a choice. I don’t sit around with the “what if” or “God forbid.” I live for today. This is the only work I was made for. If I share my knowledge and I get to choreograph and still perform, I am one happy lady.
TFM: Besides ‘Dance Moms,’ any addictive TV shows you just can’t miss?
RR: Well, here’s my list in order. Ray Donovan, The Newsroom, Game of Thrones, Homeland and Revenge. I love on demand … gagagagaga.
TFM: Just one more request, please break it down for those who still need to know … what is SAS all about? And, how do you keep it going on!
RR: Sas is my nickname. I used to call people “Sas” when I was on the road with Smokey Joe’s Cafe because we would change cities every week and it was impossible to learn everyone’s name so, everyone became “Sas.” And, then one day someone stopped and said you’re the “Sas” and so, I took it. I was Sas to many friends from that day on … 1996. When I went to Fosse, I introduced myself as Rachelle Rak, but you can call me “Sas” and it stuck. From there I, someone, don’t ask me how, created a little language of Sas-isms. Sas it Up™, Bite the Apple™ Cha Cha Puus™ Dropswing™ gagagagaga. You will have to check out my sas-ism page on my website, rachellerak.com and follow me on twitter @rachelleraksas
Rachelle Rak: http://rachellerak.com/
Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition: http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/abbys-ultimate-dance-competition