Feature: Ballet / Ballet - General


Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher! (karma: 2)
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Mon Jul 11, 2011 02:16 PM
Edited by webdeadmaster (251) on 2011-07-11 15:19:12 make feature, minor fixes

Rachel Hamrick
Rachel Hamrick's dance background is varied and wonderfully rich. She received much of her training at the prestigious Kirov Academy in Washington, DC. She's danced professionally for the Orlando Ballet, the Hungarian National Ballet, The Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, The Hungarian National Ballet in Budapest, and the Les Grands Ballets Candiens in Montreal. She's also an entrepreneur. It's this added facet that made me so anxious tp conduct this interview. This factor shows that ballet dancers are not one dimensional. They are creative artists that can invent products, start businesses and be fantastically successful when they choose to venture from company life into other endeavors.

This interview was the result of pure chance, karma, the universe sometimes giving you what you wish for, mixed with a dash of whimsy. I was sitting at Starbucks (yes, I am there all the time!), when a girl passed by my table. I noticed her immediately because (a) she was walking an adorable little puppy; (b) she was absolutely gorgeous; and (3) her body was ripped! She had about zero body fat and her long, elegant muscles coupled with her turnout told me that she was a dancer. In fact, if I was mistaken about her profession, I vowed to turn in my Official Dance Credential Card. It's the one that gives me permission to comment on this art form and its participants at will! Since I had been toying with the idea of doing some interviews again, I brazenly waded in and asked her if she was a dancer. She confirmed she was (Duh! I told you!) indeed a professional dancer (didn't I tell you?). I then asked if she'd be interested in doing an interview for Dance.net. She looked at me sort of strangely (I'm used to it), and replied that it was odd that I said Dance.net because she advertises her product here. I asked her what product it was and she responded, “The Flexistretcher!”


Photo Credit: Paul B Goode
Okay, I about fell off my chair at that point. How much of a coincidence is that? Like most of you, I had seen the advertisement featuring the girl with the 180 degree penche' and the equally gorgeous developpe. Although my first instinct was to track down the model and throttle her with my pink ballet ribbons, I eventually quelled my jealousy long enough to realize that I was curious about any product that might help produce those sorts of results. (Lord knows I need all the help I can get!) Consequently, when I found out the girl I picke d out of a crowd was the driving force behind The Flexistretcher, inside I silently cried, “Yipee!” It set-up such a perfect opportunity to learn about the genius behind this invention (yes, she invented it!), and about Rachel.

Q: I'm sitting here with Rachel Hamrick. She's graciously agreed to be interviewed by Dance.net. Good morning, Rachel.

A: Good morning.

Q: I'd like to start at the beginning with the question I always ask which is whether it was your idea to start taking ballet lessons or someone else's?

A: It was my idea. My mom gave me them as a present for my fourth birthday. She said I was really into Angelina Ballerina, and that ballet lessons were all I wanted for my birthday. I just ran around the house wanting to be a ballet dancer.

Q: Really? So it was Angelina that inspired you?

A: Yes! [laughter]

Q: And had you seen any live performances? Or was it just the book?

A: No, just the book, Well, also my mom was an aerobics instructor in the 80s. So she was using music and creating routines so that helped as well.


Photo Credit: The Ballerina Project


Q: I see. Now were you living in New York City at the time?

A: No, I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Q: And were there a lot of schools there for you to choose from?

A: No, I started lessons there, but was only there for a year. At the end of the year, we moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. They have a lot more schools to choose from.

Q: And the lessons you took at four, were they basically rhythmic exercises? How intense were they for someone that young?

A: It was more like ...

Q: ... hopping like a bunny? That sort of thing?

A: Yes, hopping, dancing with scarves and learning to listen to the music,

Q: And how was that first experience? Did you enjoy it?

A: Yes, my mom said I loved it.

Q: And the class in Williamsburg when you were five ... how did that go?

A: The lessons were always something that loved it. There was never a fight and it was always something that I wanted to do.

Q: Were the classes at that age once a week?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you focus on ballet? Or did this school incorporate jazz, acrobatics or other forms of dance?

A: I focused on ballet.

Q: Did you have a sense that you were good? Or receive feedback that you were good?

A: No, not at that age I think at that young of an age, I was just having fun with it. I didn't necessarily think that I was going to do this professionally.



Q: Did the movements come naturally to you? Like standing with turnout? Or did you just go along with what they wanted because you were passionate?

A: [laughter] Probably just passionate! I was kind of uncoordinated.

Q: And at what age did you start on pointe?

A: I took a little bit at age 11, but at 12, when I went away to ballet school, the training became intense. We started from the beginning with pointe.

Q: How did your going away to ballet school come about? What was the impetus?

A: Well, at that age, you really have to decide whether you want to train seriously or if it's going to be more of a fun experience. I ended up going to the Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C. A girl I knew in Williamsburg had gone to their summer program. Her mother had suggested the school to mine. We went up for an audition. It was really exciting.

Q: And through the audition you were accepted as a full-time student?

A: Yes.

Q: How competitive is to get into that school?

A: At the time, it was very competitive. However, hey did have a lot of funding and were giving out a lot of scholarships.

Q: Now were you trained in the Vaganova technique? Or Cecchetti?

A: Pretty much the Vaganova style, but before I went there, it was more “fun dancing,” and nothing really serious.

Q: And the Kirov afforded you the opportunity of real training?

A: Yes, that's right.

Q: Now were the teachers strict? Or was it just more disciplined, but fun?

A: Both.

Q: How many hours a day did you train?

A: At 12? Let's see, probably four or five hours a day.

Q: Wow, that is a lot! Now was there a specific teacher that stood out for you? Or that taught more in line with how your body worked?

A: I had two main teachers at the school, and both Adrienne Dellas and Nikolai Morozov were amazing! They both influenced me even to this day.

Q: Was it something specific that they changed in your technique? Or was it the way they got you to use yor body through their given exercises?

A: They were great because they taught me everything about ballet. The importance of each step, and learning each step because it all builds up from the basics. For example, you have to learn to stand in a correct first position, because it's from there that other things happen. You need the basics to be done the right way to even begin to execute movements properly. They also stressed the need to focus, and that you need to put everything you have into your dance.

Q: So they were basically into making sure to build the foundation first as opposed to rushing you into things you weren't ready for?

A: That's right.

Q: And what element of ballet did you find the most difficult? In other words, if you broke apart ballet and divided it into jumping, turns and adagio, which gave you the most problems?

A: Probably everything! [laughter] I think adagio definitely was really difficult for me at that age because I wasn't flexible. I really had to work at that. I remember it being very hard. My leg was always so low. I had to really work to get it up there.

Q: Yes, and the slowness or control required in adagio is difficult for young dancers. They tend to want to rush it and not really sustain the movements.

A: Yes, that's right.

Q: And what did they have to say about artistry? Did they start teaching about artistry and those little nuances that make a position more vivid?

A: They definitely taught artistry. I think the Russians really teach those things to children. From the position of the head to the little fingers, everything needs to be in the correct place. I don't remember exactly what they said to get you to do it that way, but artistry was apparent in everything. Even the plie.

Q: Did they always give a standing barre? Were floor barres ever incorporated into class?

A: No, we always did a standing barre. I think nowadays they probably have the kids do Pilates and floor exercises as well because those are so good to train that way. If we wanted to do any added exercises, we had to ask around or do it ourselves.

Q: Regarding summer intensives, did you stay at that school for their summer intensives? Or did you go elsewhere?

A: I stayed there for their summer intensive until I was about 15.

Q: And in terms of performing, I assume they had recitals?

A: Yes. we actually stopped academic school in October so we could go on tour dancing The Nutcracker with the Kirov Ballet.

Q: Oh, my God! What was that like?

A: It was really exciting for a little kid because it was kind of like a taste of company life.

Q: Oh, I saw the Kirov when they were in New York and they were just so amazing! That must have influenced your own style to see that level of professionalism.

A: Yes. I can't remember exactly how it came about. I think when I attended the Kirov Academy, the director of the school was also the director of the Kirov Ballet. I think that was the reason we got to go on tour with them. We did an American tour.

Q: That must have been so much fun!

A: Yes.

Q: Did you do the party scenes?

A: We did that, and the older girls got to do the Snowflakes.

Q: And what was it like being on stage for the first. Was there a spatial awareness that developed?

A: Yes, it's very exciting, especially when you're little. With the Kirov training, you're very prepared. They rehearse you a lot. I don't think anyone felt scared that they were standing in the wrong spot because we'd rehearsed it so much that ...

Q: ... you were a professional at that point.

A: Yes.

Q: So at 15 you started branching out and attending other summer intensives. Did you audition for these?

A: Yes. I can't remember the order, but I went to American Ballet Theater. In fact, I think they had just started their summer program. I also attended Boston Ballet's summer program.

Q: What were the differences between your school and the summer programs? And what did you learn at them?

A: The differences between them and going to the Kirov Academy were having new teachers that were concentrating on getting you to move and be more free in your dancing.

Q: And the American Ballet Theater summer program, I've heard they give very intense classes. Is this true?

A: When I went there, it was a good experience because I was older. You had your 10:00 AM class and rehearsed all day until 6:00 PM. It's very much like a company schedule. It's good to do that when you're older so you can get a taste of what it feels like to dance all day long. I think if you're 16, and don't like doing that, then you probably should probably stop. [laughter]

Q: How important is it for children to do summer intensives elsewhere? I often think it is, if only to see where you are in the world of ballet as opposed to where you are in your school.

A: Yes, definitely. It's good for kids to go and try summer programs – just for the experience. And it's always good to hear other teacher's opinions about what you're doing. Also, if the summer program is affiliated with a company, then it would be good to talk and get to know that company, and find out if you like it and if they like you.

Q: Sort of a networking situation.

A: Yes.

Q: And I suppose it's a good way for someone in a smaller city to get noticed.

A: Definitely.

Q: Since you auditioned and landed the part so to speak, what advice would you give for being noticed in a positive way in auditioning? I know there's a lot of discussion about how to handle them. Young dancers seem pretty nervous about them.

A: In terms of summer programs?

Q: Yes, for instance, if someone can do a clean double, should they stick with that? Or should they go with a triple that they may fall out of? Is it better to be adventurous? Or any general rules you think would help.

A: For summer programs, definitely stick with the clean double. I think that the thing to remember is that these auditions give children preparation to handle future company auditions. It's the same process used to get into companies, so they'll have to learn to go through it.. Even Broadway dancers need to audition this way. I think the key thing to do in an audition is to be confident. Anything negative thought that comes in, just send it right out! Also, try and put a smile on.

Q: Show your personality!

A: Yes, try and be confident and don't doubt yourself.

Q: Now is there a lot of psyching going out in these auditions? Or are the girls nice to each other?

A: I can't remember! [laughter] I think that a lot of times for the summer program auditions, your peers from your school go together. Since you go with your friends, your friends are your support group.

Q: So bring a support group ... if you can!

A: Yes.

Q: Okay, so you landed all these summer programs. When did you decide to start auditioning professionally? How did your professional career come about?

A: My pathway is kind of different. When I 15, I actually left school for a little bit. I lived near Richmond, in Virginia, so I had taken a few classes there during a break. What happened was that I ended up at Richmond Ballet as a trainee for a year. So I kind of joined Richmond Ballet at 15, and got a little taste of it. I could still live at home because we only lived an hour away. During that time, I did home schooling. I realized that I liked company life, but felt like I need more training. So I went back to the Kirov Academy to finish and receive more instruction. At that point, I knew. I was going to be in a company because I loved it.

Q: So that little taste was enough.

A: Yes. When I went back to the Kirov, I was training, training and training – taking as many classes as possible to get ready. And for the auditions.

Q: When did the heavy auditioning start? Or were you picked up immediately?

A: Right after school, I went to Orlando Ballet as an apprentice. I had taken their summer program. They had given me a full scholarship so I could attend. When I was there, I talked to the director of the company and asked if they were interested in me. They were. So I went to try out for the summer, but ended up staying for a year. After that, I went to the Universal Ballet in Korea. And that is actually a company of the Kirov Academy in Washington.

Q: Oh!

A: Yes, it's affiliated with the Kirov Academy in D.C. When I decided I wanted to go there, I went back to the school in Washington and talked to the director Oleg Vinogradov and told him that I was interested in joining the company in Korea.

Q: What was that like? It must have been quite an experience!

A: Yes, it was.

Q: I would think that you need a lot of confidence to do something like that. I mean, moving that far away!

A: Yes, it was really scary. Right now, I don't know if I would do it, but at that young age, I was ready to go.

Q: How long were you there?

A: I was there a little over three years, but we toured a lot so we didn't stay in one place.

Q: I see. And were you in the corps? Or performing solos? What was your role in the company?

A: I started as a member of the corps de ballet. By the time I left, I was doing some soloist work.

Q: When you returned, did you try out for other companies?

A: After Korea, I knew I wanted to stay in Europe. We had toured there, so I just knew. Especially with me being a taller dancer ...

Q: How tall are you?

A: 5'9”.

Q: Are you really?

A: Yes, and I knew in America it would be hard for me to get a job. My last year, I talked with a bunch of directors to get a sense of what was out there. They said that it was going to be harder because of my height. They said it would also help if I had more experience. Touring around Europe, I already knew they liked taller dancers. And with Universal Ballet I had toured in Budapest at the Opera House. It was gorgeous. I saw that they, the Hungarian National Ballet, were holding an audition and hiring six girls. I figured it was a lot of girls and so I went with my friend, and we both actually got the job.

Q: Wonderful! Now was she also in Korea with you?

A: Yes, and in school with me in DC.

Q: Perfect.

A: Yes, and the company had the same type of training, the same Russian training, so we both fit in well there. .

Q: And how long did you stay there?

A: A little over three years.

Q: Now did you move up to soloist?

A: No, I always feel as if I was at these places too short of a time. With most of these companies, you need to stay longer. Again, by the time I was leaving, I was doing some soloist work, but to really move up, you need to stay longer.

Q: Yes, there's always a process of moving up through the ranks unless you're a principal just crossing over to another company.

A: Yes.

Q: I know what you're saying. And so you were there for a little over three years. What prompted you to leave?

A: Actually, I had some health problems. I had to come home to have some surgery. The problem was with my stomach. And they were really great in Hungary. If you're sick, you can take up to a six month's leave of absence. It's fine with them. It took me awhile to recover. The whole thing made me kind of homesick. I realized I was missing my family so I stayed in the States for awhile – trying to regain my strength.

Q: And how long did that take?

A: At least a year.

Q: And what was your next move after you felt at full strength again?

A: I moved to New York so I could begin auditioning again. At that time, I had a friend who was dancing with Dutch National Ballet. She told me they were looking for girls. I sent my video, and they told me to come over. I was only in New York for a couple of months before I went over to Amsterdam.

Q: And what was that experience like?

A: Oh, it was great. I love Europe and the dance in Europe.

Q: Why? What's the difference between dancing in Europe as opposed to here?

A: Well, first of all the government funds dance ...

Q: [laughter] Yes, I thought you would mention that!

A: Because of that, I feel that the dancers aren't as stressed. They're not as competitive and there's not that, “I'm going to take you out!” sort of feel. The companies are bigger so there are more people employed. And every city has a national company and an opera house. In general, the whole culture respects you. If someone asks you where you're working, and you say, “I'm working at the opera house,” anyone would be impressed by that.

Q: I understand. It's more of a tradition in Europe. I don't know why it isn't considered a tradition here. We now certainly have a history with it, and wonderful companies. And the funding is problematic. I'm not sure if anything can be done to correct that, but I do agree with the government funding making things easier.

A: Yes.

Q: So it's the funding that made the difference? There was nothing specific about the types of things that they do? Or did that enter into the equation also?

A: Well, in America you have a few big companies: New York, San Francisco, Houston and Boston. Other than that handful, most of the companies are smaller because of funding. Consequently, they don't do the big classics as much. They don't necessarily do La Bayadere or Swan Lake, or the large classic ballets.

Q: Because of the money.

A: Yes, so it was another reason.

Q: And they also would have the costumes, so each year they just dust them off and go!

A: Oh, yes, they have these huge costume rooms with people in there sewing tutus. They're part of the opera house.

Q: What was the main thing you learned at the Dutch National Ballet? How did you change as a dancer?

A: Well, when I was there we were working on La Bayadere, and Makarova was working on it.

Q: Oh, no! You got to work with Markarova? She was so amazing! [/b]

A: Yes, she was.

Q: What was she like?

A: From what I heard, she was like ... (pounds hand sharply several times)

Q: Hard core! Oh, my gosh! [/b]

A: [laughter] Definitely hard core, but it's that Russian training.

Q: Yes, well, Russian dancers do seem to have that kind of background.

A: Yes, but if they didn't like you, they wouldn't push you. When I was in school, I was like, “Why is he always yelling at me?” Then finally you realize it's because they like you. it's worse to be ignored.

Q: Yes, that's so true! If somebody says that they didn't get any corrections, or that nobody got on them and called them names, it is worse than really being picked on! [laughter]

A: It's interesting because someone asked me why ballet dancers are so needy for attention. Why are they always wanting attention? And I'm thinking now the connection to school where you don't want to be ignored! [laughter] You just want the attention.

Q: Well, I suppose, even in the auditions, if you're not noticed, you're not chosen.

A: Oh, yes! You definitely want to get the attention.

Q: Now she staged this. Did she also dance with your company?

A: No, she was just there setting it. I think she has her version that she restaged.

Q: I guess a lot of the tradition of ballet is dependent on ballerinas teaching what they know. Remembering their roles, and passing it on.

A: Yes, I would have to look this up to get it exactly right, but I think she was staging a version that maybe Nureyev had done. So there were all these little changes. (Please note: Makarova, not Nureyv restaged La Bayadere. The first restaging was for ABT in 1980)

Q: Well, Nureyev is someone you should thank! I understand that he started the popularity of shorter male dancers partnering taller ballerinas. [laughter] He was very instrumental in that. Now at 5'9” were you ever discouraged because of your height?

A: Oh, definitely! Even at school, I would talk to my director and say that I wanted to be a professional dancer. He'd say it was going to be hard because you're 5'9”. I think that they even told me at the time that I was going to have to go to Europe. Now, it's a little bit better in the States because in Europe there are so many tall male dancers, so it's bleeding over. Especially at the time, 5'7” was the cut-off point.

Q: I don't know what that is. Is it just that dance in Europe attracts more men to go into ballet? Therefore, there are more taller men going into it as a profession. Gping way back, even Balanchine had to go to Europe to find men to dance with his taller ballerinas.

A: I'm not sure what the reason is. In Europe, maybe men aren't made fun of if they take ballet.

Q: I guess it goes back to it being a tradition and, therefore, respected as a profession. It's a shame because it should be respected everywhere.

A: Yes, well, it's funny because in Europe – in Budapest and in Korea which was the Russian company – the taller girls stand in the front line. They stand in the first two corps lines. So because of the perspective, when you look down the line, visually everyone appears to be the same height, and it works. If you go short in front to the taller girls in back, it doesn't really work. So if you put the taller girls in front, it doesn't really matter the height.

Q: Yes, it sounds illogical, but it's not.

A: Yes, in America they do it the opposite way though. The taller girls go in the back.

Q: So how did you learn the choreography when you were in the company?

A: You mean the casting?

Q: Yes, who was in charge of teaching you the steps, or the artistry.

A: The ballet mistress. I think when you join any company, you're just thrown to the wolves. It's like, “Swan Lake starts tomorrow and you'd better know it.”

Q: Really? Well, how do you know it?

A: You have to watch a video that they give you. Especially if it's something as universal as Swan Lake, you should know the steps. So if you're joining a company, you should get those ballets under your belt.

Q: So just watch the video!


Photo Credit: The Ballerina Project
A: Well, if it's a corps rehearsal, there are going to be girls that have been there ten years so they're not going to baby feed you each step.

Q: I suppose that treatment is just reserved for the principal roles – to hone a performance.

A: Yes, the principal roles, or the soloist roles.

Q: Now what ended that experience?

A: I was feeling homesick, so I came back after Amsterdam. Shortly after that, I auditioned for The Nutcracker with Les Grand Ballet. They were hiring extras so I thought, “Montreal is pretty close!” I went up for The Nutcracker and they ended up asking me to stay on through the spring and do a Peter Quanz ballet.

Q: And was that a classic-style ballet?

A: Yes, but Les Grands Ballet is more contemporary.

Q: So what characteristic do you possess that made these companies want you to stay? What do you think you did that would help someone else be able to get into a company?

A: You definitely have to do your research on companies, especially if you're really tall or short. Also training, if you're trained in a Balanchine technique or more classic technique, choosing a company that hires that type of dancer is very helpful.

Q: And was there something about your personality that influenced their decisions? Does personality enter into it at all, or are the decision made on talent alone? For instance, does someone difficult stand the same chance as someone perhaps more quiet and focused?

A: Yes, well, you don't ever want to be difficult. Once you get to a certain level and everyone is talented enough to be chosen, it doesn't help. Especially when it comes to switching companies, personality comes a lot into play.

Q: And I would imagine if you're tagged difficult, it would stick with you?

A: Maybe. It's a small world. [laughter]

Q: Yes, it's hard not to run into somebody! Even in New York!

A: Yes, and a lot of times the directors will switch companies. By the time I left the Hungarian National Ballet, the director had left and took over the Vienna State Opera Ballet so you might want to stay on their good side!

Q: And you were at Les Grands Ballet for how long?

A: About a year. They were a little too modern for me. I didn't necessarily fit in. When I joined, they were doing the more classical ballets, but the rest of the season was all modern.

Q: Well, before we get into what you're doing now, I wanted to ask another of my standard questions. Was there any devastating incident that happened on stage that maybe wasn't funny at the time, but is now?

A: When I was with Universal Ballet, we were on tour in Munich performing [i[Giselle[/i]. We were doing the second act, and like I said, because I was tall, we were the first ones on stage. We were about to go on when I noticed I forgot my arm puffs.

Q: Oh, no! [laughter]

A: The ballet mistress was the one that was freaking out. She was insisting I go and get my arm puffs. So I missed my cue to pull the two girl's veils off. By the time my puffs were on, the corps de ballet was standing in a B plus on stage. And the ballet mistress was like, “Go!” and she just pushed me out on stage. All my friends were making fun of me because I came out very slowly, like I was tiptoeing and sneaking in as if no one would see me. [continuing laughter] And my spot was right in the front, so I just snuck on tiptoe into my position and afterwards I got yelled at - when we were having notes. They were like, “Who was the willi that came on stage late?!”

Q: And your hand went up slowly. It would have to be Giselle! Everyone would know that one. The audience might not have even noticed if it was a less recognizable one, or new work! Anything else?

A: Once when I was guesting in The Nutcracker. I was dancing the Sugarplum Fairy and in the middle of the pas de deux, I couldn't stand on my box. It almost felt like the whole box had ripped out!

Q: Oh, perfect!

A: And my partner looked at me. We went to do a turn, and I could literally only do half a turn. He was like, “What is the matter?” and I was like, “I don't know. I don't know.” And so for the rest of music, I kind of just boureed around. [laughter] I couldn't even stand on pointe! I get off stage and find I have a jewel stuck right on the box of my shoe! I wasn't even touching the ground, it was the point of the jewel that was making contact.

Q: That was scary! And, naturally you wouldn't even know what was wrong. To return to the timeline, after Les Grand Ballet what did you?

A: I came to New York. I started doing more performances with companies in the city.

Q: Was this on a performance basis?

A: Yes, the freelance smaller companies, don't have contracts so it's on a performance basis.

Q: And how do you hear about these jobs?

A: Through friends. Networking comes into play again. I also started guesting doing Nutcracker. A lot of the regional schools put on their own shows and like to hire professionals. I also started teaching at a school a little bit and I started my business.

Q: Yes, I wanted to get to that! What is your business?

A: My business is The Flexistretcher, which is a stretching product.

[b]Q: And how did that come about? I think on Dance.net we've all seen those ads. They've been mentioned in posts a few times. It's why I almost fell off my chair when you said it was your product.I wasn't expecting it, but we've all been curious about it.


A: Well, in Europe and in Korea, they all use tire tubes to do the same kind of stretching. As a result of my surgery, I lost a lot of flexibility in my back. It's almost like it was sewn shut (indicates stomach region pulling her forward.)

Q: Really? I see.

A: So I was trying to find ways to help my back regain my flexibility. Like with my arabesque. I needed to get my strength back to hold my arabesque. Then my fellow dancers saw it, and were wanting one ...

Q: But how was it developed? Did you create it?

A: Over the years I have used similar products and eventually pieced together a product that was specific for my needs and goals I was like, “Oh, I'd like this,” or “I want that.”

Q: So you actually developed it. And how did you have the prototype made?

A: I was in Hungary at the time, so I used some local guys. Again, networking! {laughter] So I used them.
(Please note: Rachel had more to add on this point. Here is her more definitive answer: Specifically about the prototype, I have tried many different materials and pieces over the years. It wasn’t until I came to New York that I actually met with some design people and put together real prototypes and have custom pieces made. I have spent a lot of time doing a global search testing for the best materials out on the market. In the beginning, it was a very ‘home-made’ product. After moving to NY and people seeing me use it, I started concentrating on designing and branding a real product. Now I have teamed up with a business partner who has been such a great help and we have designed all our own pieces and developed the brand. As a result the product has advanced considerably since the early days. We believe it is not only a much more effective product, but also better built to withstand to the demands of daily use of professional dancers.)

Q: And luckily, they were good at putting things together!

A: Yes, and my friend at the time. We chose the pieces, but they've changed now.

Q: You mean, the original model has been updated. What prompted that? Has it just become more sophisticated?

A: Yes.

Q: You mentioned regaining the back strength which helped with your arabesque. Would this help a young dancer that was having problems holding it?

A: Definitely, I do teach ballet now, and I've seen the results first-hand. I think for the young dancers, it's often the best because sometimes, they have all this flexibility, but aren't sure how to hold and maintain the proper position. Strengthwise, The Flexistretcher works really well for that. In fact, I use it a lot more for strength. If you put it on a lower resistance, it doesn't force your leg up. It works more on making you hold the leg. Essentially, you have to lift your leg up yourself.

Q: But it holds you in the correct position.

A: Yes.

Q: So basically, it's a harness?

A: Yes, it's elastic resistance. It's composed of nylon and elastic, so it's not just all stretch. A lot of yoga straps are just nylon so there's no give in them, and it won't work with your muscles properly. With The Flexistetcher, it won't pull your muscles at all. If you have it on too tight, you won't be able to straighten your legs. It won't force your leg into a position you can't hold.

Q: Right. Because the elastic has that play in it. And I think because you're working it yourself, you're not going to force yourself into something you can't do. If someone else was stretching you, they might do that. /b]

A: Yes, and often times when I'm using it with kids, when they first get in it and try an arabesque, the response is, “Oh, so this is what an arabesque is supposed to feel like!”

[b]Q: So it's not only for dancer's gaining flexibility. This could be used at schools to gain the correct placement and position. I would imagine it would also be helpful with doing a developpe?


A: Yes.

Q: Well, this is great! I can't tell you how many posts on Dance.net there are about this subject. The titles are like, “Help! I need help with my arabesque!” or “I can't do a developpe! How do I hold my leg up?” So this would potentially be a huge answer to those sorts of problems.

A: It definitely would help a lot. I've seen it first-hand. My sister and I are both dancers. And as I said, I wasn't naturally flexible. Actually, before I went to the Kirov, my teacher there told me that I had to get my splits before I came back.

Q: You didn't have splits by 12?

A: No, I didn't.

Q: Wow! That really is not flexible. Especially since you'd been taking since four.

A: Yes, so I always was stretching and working on stretching. And my sister, when she was in school, she always had this beautiful 90 degree extension, but now! I mean, she's crazy flexible! She's younger than I am, so I gave her one when she was in school and she used it.

Q: And it helped.

A: Yes, it definitely helped a lot. Like any product, you have to use it regularly. It's not some magic wand.

Q: I think it's such a useful tool because you're in the correct position when you're stretching. A lot of times people stretch in these splayed positions which basically does nothing. So they do all this stretching and never get any results because they're stretching the wrong way, but this holds you in position.


Photo Credit: The Ballerina Project
A: Yes, you essentially have to activate your muscles. So if you just take hold of your leg, and force it up, you're not really doing anything. You're not holding your leg, you're using your hand strength to lift it.

Q: And, again, you may be contorting your body to lift it which does absolutely no good.

A: Sometimes when people are looking at it, they think the strap is just going to hold your leg up, and that's not the way it not true. With kids, I'm very strict about them holding on to the barre the first time they use it. Every time when they first use it, their legs just sort of swing around, flying off to the right or left ... like woosh! Or swoop!

Q: Oh, really?

A: Yes, you need to learn how to hold your leg. To use your back muscles and hold it there so it really helps with control.

Q: Well, then, it would be worth the price of the product just to feel the right position! That's half the battle because if you don't have any idea of what it feels like, you can't build on the placement. That's another thing that's constantly posted about. Where you should feel things when you're holding an arabesque or a developpe.

A: Yes, these are such difficult positions. I remember in school, learning the arabesque and developpe a la seconde.

Q: Yes, well, the arabesque such a deceptively simple position. It has to be so correct to establish a beautiful line. And how often in real life do you hold you leg out to the back? [laughter] It's not something you do. You may lift your leg to the front, but I can't really think of leaning forward and lifting your leg out to the back.

A: There are so many things that come into play. There's rotating the turnout and your hips and ...

Q: Well, there's another thing. It might help with turns because it's really getting you to feel what it's like to be over your supporting leg. Again, if you're not a natural turner, it may be something that you don't feel.

A: Yes, because if you're in between, you'll fall off. Especially with the kids. They're always like, “Oh, this is what it should be!” when they shift their weight over.

Q: Yes, you really have to shift over, even though it doesn't look it. Ballet is one of those things where you can't tell what someone is doing by looking at it. What it appears they're doing, is not what you actually have to do. Like lifting up. It's not sticking out the ribs and lifting out of position. This might help someone get in touch with that internal process.

A: Yes, once you get that position correct, you can build.

Q: So you said you were teaching? In NY?

A: Yes, at Steps in Manhattan. Also a couple other schools in the tri-state area.

Q: Really? How marvelous? Now are these scholarship students?

A: No, I'm teaching the seven year olds. They're too young to be in the scholarship program. They are so cute. There's not an acceptance process to get in. Just sign-up.

Q: How did you get that job? Did you always want to teach?

A: I've actually always enjoyed teaching. I tried it a few times at my old school in Virginia. Even when I was 15, I was teaching.

Q: So you've always liked it. Well, that's wonderful. I'm so happy that I ran into you. Normally, I have to beat down doors to get to people, and you just walk by my table! I always want it to be that easy! And then for you to be the inventor of The Flexistretcher, I was like, “How crazy is this?” Well, I want to thank you again for doing this interview. I'm sure the members will get a kick out of it and love hearing about the product. They all saw the picture of the beautiful girl with the incredible extensions!

A: That's my sister!

Q: What? That's your sister? You didn't even say anything! [laughter] Oh, my God! What is her name?

A: Her name is Melanie Hamrick and she dances with American Ballet Theater. I think it's another reason I came back to New York, to be close to her.

Q: Oh, great! How long has she been there!

A: She's been dancing since she finished school. Right out of the Kirov Academy, so she's been there her entire career.

Q: Well, maybe I'll do an interview with her as well!

A: You should.

Q: Well, thank you again. This has been a lot of fun!

A: You're welcome.

-----------------------

For information about Rachel's wonderful product, The Flexistrecher, or to arrange for Pilates lessons, please contact her at rachel@flexistretcher.com. Rachel is certified through Power Pilates and Pilates on Fifth.

For more information about The Ballerina Project, please visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com . . . or ballerinaproject.com

21 Replies to Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!

re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By Attitude1407
On Tue Jul 12, 2011 03:42 PM
Great interview! I enjoyed reading it, and she really is gorgeous! It's hard to imagine that she wasn't naturally flexible.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Jul 12, 2011 04:38 PM
Attitude1407 wrote:

Great interview! I enjoyed reading it, and she really is gorgeous! It's hard to imagine that she wasn't naturally flexible.


Attitude -

Thank you so much, honey! You are so sweet!

Yes, and she really is that gorgeous in person. And I had the same reaction. It's funny how once you achieve something, it looks so natural! As if you were born with it! I suppose just like ballet. Some people have such a hard time with some movements, and once they master it, voile! it looks effortless.

Now if she could invent something that could give us her banana feet!
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By OneGiantLeap
On Wed Jul 13, 2011 02:11 PM
Great and wonderfully comprehensive interview Sylph! Thank you so much for posting.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By Attitude1407
On Thu Jul 14, 2011 04:53 PM
nycsylph wrote:

Attitude -

Thank you so much, honey! You are so sweet!


Aww. :]

nycsylph wrote:

Now if she could invent something that could give us her banana feet!


I'm already a shoe-killer, so I wouldn't go for that... :P But the Flexi-Stretcher I could definitely use!! Being such a late starter, extension is where it's hardest for me to catch up to the younger girls.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Jul 15, 2011 08:41 AM
OneGiantLeap wrote:

Great and wonderfully comprehensive interview Sylph! Thank you so much for posting.


OneGiantLeap -

You're very welcome!

I love what Rachel had to say. She basically gave a blueprint of how to have another type of successful career. Not everyone is going to be picked up by one company and remain there for the entirety of their career, but it doesn't mean they can't be very happy working with multiple ones!

I love how she handled the issue with her height. I know it's been discussed, but people that are successful don't take no for answer - they look for solutions instead! Even with her early inflexibility, she found a way to overcome that obstacle.

Glad you enjoyed it!

But the Flexi-Stretcher I could definitely use!! Being such a late starter, extension is where it's hardest for me to catch up to the younger girls.


Attitude -

I know what you mean! I'm more curious than ever to try it out.

I think in addition to flexibility, that it puts you in the correct position. That means if someone is having an issue with doing a developpe because of lack of strength or improper technique, this gives that person a fighting chance. If you're in the right position ... you very cleverly can work and strengthen that subtle muscle grouping.

Hope you're enjoying your summer! Cyber hugs!
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By OneGiantLeap
On Fri Jul 15, 2011 09:15 AM
nycsylph wrote:

She basically gave a blueprint of how to have another type of successful career.


Exactly! It's so great to read a different story. I think it's a good blueprint of how to have any type of creative career.

Such serendipity you chanced upon each other. I have to admit I was a little sceptical about the Flexistrether, but when you see what she has to say about it, it seems like a great tool.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Jul 15, 2011 10:12 AM
OneGiantLeap wrote:

nycsylph wrote:


Such serendipity you chanced upon each other. I have to admit I was a little sceptical about the Flexistrether, but when you see what she has to say about it, it seems like a great tool.


Yes, downright fated to happen it seems!

I agree with initial impressions about the product. I think another great validation is that her sister actually used it! And her sister is now dancing with ABT and is used as the model! Now there's no telling if her extensions would have been this good without it, but it certainly is a major endorsement that someone with this type of incredible extension used it.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By Bobbee
On Wed Jul 20, 2011 07:20 PM
Thanks for the great article!!! I've always wondered how well that stretching device worked. Maybe now I'll have to try it.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Jul 21, 2011 06:16 PM
Bobbee wrote:

Thanks for the great article!!! I've always wondered how well that stretching device worked. Maybe now I'll have to try it.



Bobbee -

You're welcome! Glad you enjoyed it!

Yes, I was curious about it myself, and this intrigued me even more. Especially because she's using it in her children's classes.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By balletdee
On Sat Jul 23, 2011 04:56 PM
Rachel is awesome and her Flexistrecher works!!! Every serious student needs one!!!
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Jul 28, 2011 08:29 AM
balletdee wrote:

Rachel is awesome and her Flexistrecher works!!! Every serious student needs one!!!


Rachel is fabulous!

And I guess that's a ringing endorsement for her product. As stated above, I haven't tried it yet, but will.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By roselea
On Sun Jul 31, 2011 05:11 PM
what a great interview and amazing pictures. thank you.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By Oliwen
On Sat Aug 06, 2011 08:00 AM
I've heard of the Flexistretcher. I think it was on the Fashion Fantasy Game or something, but I can't remember.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By bombsquaddancers
On Wed Sep 14, 2011 01:38 PM
great article and interview thanks for sharing
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By patricia6
On Tue Jan 17, 2012 02:29 PM
I Loved That Interveiw Thanks For Sharing With Everyone . xx
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By patricia6
On Tue Jan 17, 2012 02:31 PM
Great interveiw
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Jan 17, 2012 03:09 PM
patricia6 wrote:

Great interveiw


patricia6 -

Oh, thank you!

I had a lot of fun interviewing her.

Think she was very forthcoming and helpful.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By SoloJazzDancer
On Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:08 PM
My niece is in Boston w/The Boston Ballet. She's not in the company yet, she's only 17 but she will love this article. I am going to let her read it. She wants to kind of do what Rachael did. She took summer classes for 2 years and she got a scholarship to Boston.

I have a question about the Flexistretcher. Is it just for people who take ballet? I ask because I take Jazz and at 57 I almost have a split. I wasn't even this close in my 20's, 30's or 40's. I'd like to be more flexible and nail that split. At my age how cool would that be? Would this help w/splits and kicks and things?

Thanks for the great interview. I love reading about people who are so dedicated to their dance.
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sat Mar 24, 2012 07:39 PM
SoloJazzDancer wrote:

My niece is in Boston w/The Boston Ballet. She's not in the company yet, she's only 17 but she will love this article. I am going to let her read it. She wants to kind of do what Rachael did. She took summer classes for 2 years and she got a scholarship to Boston.

I have a question about the Flexistretcher. Is it just for people who take ballet? I ask because I take Jazz and at 57 I almost have a split. I wasn't even this close in my 20's, 30's or 40's. I'd like to be more flexible and nail that split. At my age how cool would that be? Would this help w/splits and kicks and things?

Thanks for the great interview. I love reading about people who are so dedicated to their dance.


SoloJazzDancer -

So sorry!

I didn't realize people were still commenting!

First, thank you so much for the compliment. I do appreciate the fact you took the time to comment and to pass on such wonderful remarks!

I don't know that much about the Flexistretcher, but I do know it's definitely not just for dancing! Rachel made that clear and on her website it does a good job of saying it's for anyone trying to attain flexibility. That includes other forms of dance and yoga. It could just be for someone trying to maintain flexibility.

I think it's great that at 57 you're working on a split! In fact, that's about the most wonderful thing I've heard in quite a while. I'm 62 so I can definitely relate to you wanting to improve!

I really can't say if this particular apparatus is going to help you. I'm sure if you write to Rachel through her website contact, she or a representative can answer your question. I think at our ages the main thing is to do something:

1. Safe
2. Regularly and consistently
3. An exercise that can be adapted
4. Something that doesn't force us unnaturally

I believe the Flexistretcher meets those requirements, but I haven't personally used it. I know one adult dancer told me she has it and uses it. And Rachel specifically said it doesn't force anything. You really have to operate it under your own steam and strength!

Why don't you contact her through the link she gave? Here, I'll post it again for ease:

please contact her at rachel@flexistretcher.com


And tell your niece congratulations! You should be very proud of her, and she should be very proud of herself! That is quite an accomplishment! Boston Ballet is a wonderful company! And please do let her read the article. Rachel has made many, many smart moves in terms of career choices. It was one of the reasons I was so excited to post it. She's made smart decisions all along the way and created a very nice niche for herself! And she continues to do that, doesn't she?

Thank you again! You've made my night!
re: Inspiration #07: Interview with Rachel Hamrick, Creator of The Flexistretcher!
By SoloJazzDancer
On Sat Mar 24, 2012 08:00 PM
Thank you and you made my night too. Thank you again for the link and I will write to her and ask her. Right now I can't afford it but I would love to get it if it would help me. I just love to dance and this year had to find a new teacher as my teacher quit her school and it closed up. Her family and I were so close because first her mom was my teacher but had to give up teaching because of blood clots in her legs. We had been teacher & student since the 70's but we went to high school together although I didn't know her in high school. Then her daughter took over. So you can imagine how hard it was to have to find a new teacher and school after all these years.

My sister, my nieces mom, was also a ballerina and was the Snow Queen in her schools Nutcracker which was a very big deal as her school is pretty famous and was on an MTV show. My niece took from that school and then took summer classes at Boston Ballet and they wanted her to take full time from them, which she is now doing. They offered all kinds of scholarships as my sister is a single mom. She loves dance! She does not need this but I could use it.

Thank you again for the reply. I will let you know if she replies. My problems w/doing a split? Being only 4'6", when I get down on the floor, the people in the back rows think I have disappeared! LOL

Comment #9974766 deleted
Removed by hummingbird (128773) on 2012-07-11 08:40:24 Spam


ReplySendWatch

Powered by XP Experience Server.
Copyright ©1999-2021 XP.COM, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
XL
LG
MD
SM
XS
XL
LG
MD
SM
XS