Rachel James is a graduate from California State University Long Beach, a two time Laker Girl, and an instructor for the Universal Dance Association. She grew up as a studio competitor, dance team member and captain of her college dance squad. Rachel currently lives in Las Vegas, NV where she is signed with the Movement Talent Agency and teaches dance at local studios. We were lucky enough to interview her this month for J+J!
What was your early dance life and experience growing up as a dancer?
I started out at a local dance studio where I was eventually taking over 20 hours of dance a week! I lived for studio competition, until I got into 11th grade. That’s when I joined my high school Song team, which introduced me to a whole new world I would very quickly fall in love with.
That’s awesome! Can you describe the different benefits you gained as both a studio and team dancer?
I have studio training to thank completely for my technique as a dancer. It also taught me a lot about time management, balance, responsibility and dedication. It distilled in me from the beginning a discipline in the classroom as a student, as a teammate and in life in general.
“It isn’t always easy being a dancer, but just like trying to nail a trick, I have always been taught to never give up, fall down 7 times and stand up 8.”
Being part of a dance team also played a huge part in my success. Every time we hit the dance floor together we wanted to nail our routine as a unit; as a whole. We yelled for each other throughout our routine to pump each other up and worked for hours on end cleaning each other down to our finger placement so that we all looked exactly the same.
That was a major key in helping me to prepare for a professional team, as well as the dance industry, where we often times are required to learn routines quickly and have to make it look like we have been dancing together for years.
Choreographers: Tokyo, Travis Wall, Shannon Mather
Dancers: Misty Copeland, Paula Van Oppen, the dancers on Hit The Floor (haha!), LSU Tiger Girls
Teachers and mentors: Travis Lake, Rachel Sebastion, Lisa Estrada
Let’s talk about your Major in Dance at Long Beach State. What was it like being a part of that program?
The dance program at Long Beach State was ballet and modern based. I was taking almost 6 hours of each weekly which opened my eyes to a whole new world of dance. No longer was I so focused on hitting my tricks, I was focused on learning how to use my body in a whole new way.
I was figuring out why I was doing something rather than it just being another part of an eight count. In addition to my technique classes, I was taking classes like pilates, how to teach young dancers, dance history, and improve, which opened my eyes to viewing dance with a more educated eye. I like to thank that program for a lot for preparing myself not only as a more versatile dancer, but as a teacher and choreographer as well.
You were a Lakers Girl! What were both your favorite and most challenging parts of that experience?
The first time I auditioned for the Laker Girls, I actually didn’t make it. After I received that call, I realized how bad I wanted it and dedicated the entire next year to bettering myself for auditions. I went in the second time around with much more self confidence, something I had always struggled with. When I was told that there was a position on the team for me it was honestly one of the most amazing feelings ever to realize I had made my dream a reality. I was fortunate enough to be offered a spot on the team for 2 seasons and danced for the Lakers from 2014-2016.
Being a Laker Girl meant not only being a great dancer, but also being an ambassador for one of the largest sports franchises in the world. The role as a Laker Girl pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to speak up, speak in front of crowds and cameras and interact with others as one others look up to. Not many people are given the opportunity to be given a platform to influence others in such a positive way.
I also made lifelong friends with my teammates and memories to last a lifetime, like traveling to Hawaii and China, dancing with Maroon 5 and performing at Kobe’s last game!
You’re now a teacher, yourself. What was the transition like to becoming a teacher? What are the fundamentals you try to pass on to your students?
In order to be successful at teaching, not only do you have to be educated on what it is you are teaching, but you also have to know how to take control, motivate, push and give constructive criticism. Teaching is not for everyone, however I found a real passion in it.
“I love the opportunity it gives me to share my love for dance while also pushing a new generation to work hard and be their personal best.”
I want to see my students succeed and be the best they can be, but I want them to want it for themselves as well. So I am constantly pushing them to find that within themselves to instill that self-motivation and drive within.
We just think you are lovely! Do you have a message or something you’d like to pass along to aspiring dancers now?
While it is nothing that you haven’t already heard before, seriously, never give up on your dreams. There are always going to be jobs or auditions that you are unfortunately just not what they are looking for. However, timing is everything, and if you don’t continue to put yourself out there, you will never know what could have been. Be determined, don’t take a no as a defeat and use it as fuel to help you learn and grow to better yourself for the next opportunity that comes your way. Never stop learning!
Thank you, Rachel! XO