Katie: Okay, as you know we started interviewing people that we’ve been associating with because I wanna hear back from them on what their struggles and challenges have been and what their story is. You started everything that you do right now with dancing? Is that right?
Katie: How old were you when you started doing that?
Katie: That’s cool, what kind of dancing did you do?
Rachel: Oh, I went to one of those little studios in small towns, they were like tap, jazz, ballet. But I was thinking about this because I saw my mom this past weekend. I would say I’ve been dancing since the age of three, but that’s not accurate because when I was three, all I did was sit by the window and wait for mom to come and get me. And walk around with my little tiny leotard going up my butt. It did begin to socialize me, I’m a very painfully shy person, but the actual dancing didn’t start for a while.
Katie: So you didn’t naturally feel attuned to dancing till you got a little older?
Katie: How did it develop into middle school and high school? What changed?
Rachel: It was where my community was. I was raised going to dance class. So, that’s where my friends were. It was the thing that I did after school and I wasn’t good at it naturally. But the pageantry appealed to me very much, the costumes and the magic of a stage and inventing a world out of nowhere was always very compelling to me. I found performing very easy. I didn’t find dance very easy.
Katie: Even though you were shy when you were younger?
Rachel: Yeah, I was not afraid of the stage, but I was afraid of the classroom.
Katie: Did you ever outgrow that shyness or did it just sort of morph?
Rachel: It never went away. At some point, if you’re a painfully shy, introverted person, you have to decide; “Am I going to participate in the world, or not?” You don’t have to, but the things that I wanted required me to learn the skill of participating in the word, so I just kind of learned it. Like, the shyness is still there but I’ve gotten pretty practiced at taking action in spite of it.
Katie: But when you’re performing, you don’t feel the same shyness?
Rachel: It’s a permissive environment, right?
Katie: Yeah, and your interaction with humans is almost like ‘anything goes’ because you’re the one in charge of what you’re presenting.
Rachel: Yeah, an audience is mostly a supportive, passive participant. They want to be moved and you’re there to move them. So whatever story you tell, they’re going to buy, unless you’re not telling it well.
Katie: I like the idea that the audience’s job is very restricted.
Rachel: Yeah, and they want you to succeed, they’re on your team.
Katie: So, as you got older, how did the dance expand to other areas that you explored?
Rachel: It was so deeply rooted in my sense of community and in my self-worth, I did get better eventually at it. I was one of the older girls and in high school we played the main roles in the company, and that brought with it a sense of responsibility and pride and all this other stuff that comes with devoting your life to something. So when I got to college I naturally looked up the dance department and I didn’t major in dance but I did minor in it. I spent a lot of time doing it, and that’s when I learned how to break all of the rules that I had so carefully followed for so long. Which is the natural progression I think.
Katie: Especially if you start with ballet, or something strict like that.
Rachel: Exactly, I didn’t stick with tap or jazz growing up, but I did stick with ballet the whole time so going into college I discovered modern dance, which I really didn’t know about. I knew a little about lyrical and jazz but I didn’t know about this contemporary stuff. “So I can just make things up?” Yeah, and It was great. That’s when creativity actually became part of the picture instead of just technique.
Katie: Uhuh. Well, but that’s a really good foundation.
Rachel: Yup, It was a good foundation, you can rely on it to give you beautiful lines when you want them. But, like any foundation. it’s also restrictive. It’s a double edged sword. I’m very grateful for it.
Katie: At what point did you venture into aerial arts and how did you discover it?
Rachel: Well, when I was probably nineteen, I went to some movie and before the movie there was a clip of a Cirque Du Soleil fabric duo. No idea who it was or what show, and I had to leave the room because it hurt to watch it. Because I knew I would never.. That that wasn’t my life and that just hurt too much. So then I put that away and then when I was twenty-five, so 6 years later..
Katie: That was a long time wasn’t it?
Rachel: It was a long time. After I had graduated and travelled around for a little bit and came home, I was like “So? What am I going to do with my life?”, [aerial is] the coolest thing I can imagine doing. Wonder if I could just give it a shot? I did a google search, and I think it was just the circus center in San Francisco and the school in Boulder were the only ones that came up at the time. This was 2006. So I decided to move to San Francisco to go to the Circus Center to at least give it a shot in the dark. Why not? So at nineteen I felt like I was too old, but at twenty five I changed my mind.
Katie: Yeah, that’s so interesting. In the ballet world you pretty much don’t have a career unless you started pretty young. But in aerial arts there’s all these people from all ranges of backgrounds, ages and varying and surprisingly good level of expertise considering that they didn’t grow up doing it from age 5 or whatever.
Katie: So, you started with lyra, but you also do some silks?
Rachel: Started with silks.
Katie: Oh, you started with silks.
Rachel: I didn’t know what a Lyra was… at first.
Katie: So the first performance that you saw was a duo silks act?
Rachel: Yes. Yeah…
Katie: And then you got into lyra?
Rachel: Yeah, that’s probably a year and a half later. We had Chloe Axelrod who created the fast spinning dynamic melty gorgeousness of hoop. You can see her signature in so many artists now. I think the first time I saw her perform was her duo act with Katie Scarlett in The Crucible when they did their duo lyra act. The symmetry of the lyra, the fast spins were just too mesmerizing. So, I’m afraid I’m going to the dark side.
Katie: Yeah, and I remember talking to you about this before and you said you had developed your spin tolerance and I think you said it took you about 6 months of being constantly nauseous.
Rachel: Yup. Yeah…
Katie: I still haven’t committed enough, I’m too scattered cuz I’m always trying to do all the things.
Rachel: You do a lot of things but your spinning has gotten a lot faster. It used to not exist.
Katie: I mean I can do it, I’m just not excited about the idea of doing it continuously and I always end up feeling sick. There’s too many other things that I also do and I keep telling myself I don’t wanna feel nauseous when I’m doing all these other things. It’s probably a cop out.
Rachel: No… It’s hard enough already without bringing pain to yourself.
Katie: That’s true.
Could you give an overview of how you developed your acts and actually started performing? And I know a lot of coaching came out of that.
Rachel: While I was getting my foundation of aerial skills. I was not strong and I was not flexible. So I had a very steep uphill two year period where I just had to remake my body. But I did know how to move so I used my dance background to support myself as well as my writing. So I was writing SEO copy online, remotely for $10 an hour and living in San Francisco and I got a job as a gogo dancer at a new club that opened. Eventually the leader of that troupe left to go do something else and she bequeathed the leadership of that group to me.
Katie: That’s cool…
Rachel: I did that for a year… Through the Circus Center I met Kristina Nekyia who runs Fit and Bendy, the Burlesque Queen. Who is one of my dearest friends, and she had a troupe called Nekyia Dance, which was belly dance fusion with circus arts, pretty much everything I wanted to be a part of. We became close and she invited me to dance with her troupe and then also auditioned and joined The Vau de Vire Society as a dancer. So I was pretty busy. The dancing and the writing supported me so I could continue going to the circus school several times a week, and there was a professional program but I couldn’t afford it, so I just took private lessons with Kerri Kresinski and some with Chloe, and I went to class and practiced on my own. I mean necessity is the mother of invention right? So whatever someone needed, I just made it. Like ‘we need an act’ I was like ‘okay I’ll make that’. That started happening.
Katie: I would honestly love that, if somebody would just walk up to me and said ‘We need and act for this kind of thing’ and I’m forced to do it, you know?
Rachel: Well it happens a lot, I guess it’s specific to location. I was part of three different troupes who needed content. But then I moved to Seattle to be closer to Shaun, we were still dating, he was in the navy so he couldn’t come to me. That’s when I really started moving into life as an aerialist. I didn’t want to start working in the same city where my heroes and mentors and teachers had brought me up. It felt almost disrespectful, though that was just a fear and I wouldn’t condone that thinking now. But, I was happy that I got to move to a totally different city where no one knew me, and enter that new environment as a young aerialist rather than just an experienced dancer.
Rachel: And that was something of a golden age in Seattle for freelance aerialists. There were a couple of schools there, and a couple of new troupes, some cabaret opportunities. I lined up my first residency at The Pink Door in Seattle, a fabulous Italian restaurant. Whoever is listening to this, you MUST go and you must get the bolognese for 20 minutes of satisfaction, and if Jackie Roberts (la Padrona)is there say Hi from me. I worked there at The Pink Door every Monday night for 4 years and that was my first real aerial gig. It really helped me cut my teeth because it was 4 sets a night. I mean acts to songs, So I learned to create not just one act but I created four separate acts just to begin with, and all the stuff that a young aerialist would tend to gravitate towards, like tango music. A version of the Tango Roxanne was definitely one of my first picks. Just things that I thought would go with the restaurant and the vibe, something with drama. The more I did it the more comfortable I got, the more restless I got so I wanted to incorporate different elements into my acts. The creativity really started to wake up and be demanding and Jackie was always so supportive of whatever weirdness I wanted to do. And I was lucky to have Emerald Trapeze arts as well, as they were also like, “you wanna build a giant petri dish and fill it with water and splash water all over the stage? We’re here for it. Do it”. I’m very very blessed for the people I had.
Katie: I have plans of going back to The Pink door now that I know you because… I’ve been there but not since I knew you. It’s funny because I had just started aerial and I was like “It looks like they have an aerial set up in here.” And I was kind of bummed that there wasn’t like a show or something.
Rachel: Sunday and Monday night!
Katie: I gotta go there Sunday or Monday and take a picture of your painting that’s there.
Rachel: The mural, yes, where I’m brunette so it looks like I’m Italian but you can tell it’s my face!
Katie: Yeah it’s awesome and I’m excited to see it in person.
When did The Audacity Project start… or did something come before that?
Rachel: I was a teacher and a coach before that and I had a workshop that I developed called Bridging the Gap, which I set up to help emerging artists discuss best practices because I saw so many people make the same mistakes and worse that I had made. When I started performing I didn’t know what to charge, I didn’t know how to write an invoice or to a contract, and no one was teaching those things. So, the information wasn’t really there. Again, the necessity was the mother of invention and I developed that workshop and it grew and grew and grew and eventually I realized that it wasn’t enough to really support them. I needed more time with them as individuals and not just sitting around the table for a couple of hours so I developed The Audacity Project.
Katie: And that’s been going for how long now?
Rachel: a little over 2 years.
Katie: It feels so much longer for some reason.
Rachel: It really does…
Katie: You also have other workshops too like the Buttermeltworkshop is that right?
Rachel: Oh yeah, l have my movement quality workshops, spinning theory, and spinning hoop sequences. Those were all my specialty things.
Katie: And then you’ve also been involved in Ireland and some retreats and other things like that. Bigger workshops, right?
Rachel: Yes a lot of festival environments, especially the Irish Aerial Dance Festival run by Fidget Feet Aerial Dance. What year was it? actually it’s funny because there was one year in Seattle, I always forget about this, where I had gotten back from a tour that I did with Queensryche and I didn’t have any work lined up but this opportunity to apply for another writing gig came up, and then I got that and I was writing copy for the Amazon app store. I did that for almost a year. I always forget about that. That’s this strange pocket of my life where I had a day job. I would sit on my desk on Monday night after finishing work and put on all my make up and have my hoop and walk to The Pink Door because it was downtown. It was so hard… My God…It was so hard…I could just take the bus down to the circus school after working and train for 3 hours, and then pour yourself into bed.
Katie: I like envisioning all of this.
Rachel: Makes me tired just thinking about it.
Katie: So, what I’m thinking of is, everything that was born out of that I get to enjoy… it’s purely selfish.
Rachel: It’s nice to hear though.
Katie: So back to The Audacity Project, are you happy with how it’s developed so far? And where do you see it going?
Rachel: I love The Audacity Project, I’m so happy with the work that those who’ve come and agreed to participate have done. It was such a wide variety of artists and my primary wish for all of them is just to hear their artistic instincts and to trust them. To always put that as their primary objective. To enjoy their own work and to build their own work. This past year I’ve done five cycles, and that’s way too many for me, and that’s because if a cycle of The Audacity Project is happening not much else can happen because I want to be able to focus on them. So, how I see it developing. I may offer it 1 to 2 times a year on the same program. Through the application process. I have also been hammering away at a self-guided version because I know that there are some who are living that freelance life, and as much as they might want to do the whole program it is expensive. It’s affordable for what it is, it’s worth it but it’s still an expense and it’s still bottlenecked at me and there’s some people that are not gonna be able to make that happen so I wanted to develop a self-guided version of The Audacity Project to release into the wild for a lower price point so that people can read themselves through the material.
Katie: I think that’s a good idea…
Rachel: And it would be a more approachable price point for someone who is gigging their way through life. Oh, I remember that… like “can I buy honey? No… I can’t”. I remember not being able to buy honey. I still bought circus classes though.
Katie: We have our priorities.
Rachel: It’s all about priorities, which is why I don’t give the project away for free.
Katie: I’m glad. Yeah, that’s important. I mean, you basically put your entire life into it pretty much. I mean, I think that’s worth a lot, both monetary value and respect.
Rachel: Thank you.
Katie:. You have Diamonds in the Dark which you just released, can you talk about that?
Rachel: So, Diamonds in the Dark was just released this week. I’ve been building it for over a year. It is a culmination of all the bits of coaching except for hoop-specific tricks. Bits of coaching that I find people tend to gravitate towards me for. Like, how to move in a way that was intentional and not just copying what somebody else was doing. This has happened to me so many times, that someone would book a private lesson with me and I would get to them to the studio and I’m like “What can I do for you? What would you like to work on?” and sometimes they would tear up and say “I ‘can’t, I don’t have any creativity, I cannot make up movement, I’m tired of just copying tricks, I want to make art, I want to perform, touch an audience, elicit an emotional response.” They just didn’t believe that they could, which I knew wasn’t true. So I would take them through a series of very simple exercises and sometimes I would get up right up to their face andsay “Do you realize that you’re doing it right now? That’s beautiful what you just did and I didn’t tell you to do that you just made that on your own.” I mean, I was just the messenger. All of those exercises are what I put in Diamonds in the Dark. Just hoping that it is a platform to facilitate being able to hear and then trust your own artistic voice.
Katie: When I think about this project, I have a visceral reaction to it because that’s what I want more than anything.
Rachel: That’s wonderful. Thank You.
Katie: You have given me an overview of it, can you give me any more specific details about Diamonds in the Dark, like how it’s structured?
Rachel: Yes. There’s no exercises in the beginning. The first section is all mental and emotional preparation. I instruct you to get a notebook, but not just any notebook. It has to be cool; I think the exact instructions are, “Buy a sexy pen and notebook”. Something that you love looking at and not just some crappy ballpoint pen. Part of the benefit of the exercises is the sensual experience of writing by hand. That can be an irritating practice, it can also be really beautiful. I filled up so many notebooks with morning pages. Now I have to do it. If I don’t do it I’m weird all day. And I told people to do morning pages in Diamonds in the Dark. One of my testing subjects was Shannon McKenna and she came in with this super awesome feedback “I understand and I support you telling people to do morning pages but I kind of think you’re selling it short”. You can’t just be like “so do morning pages it’s good for you” you could turn it into something not Julia Cameron specific, I love her and grateful to Julia Cameron for putting that name on it but not everyone’s going to get up and do them in the morning. Journaling can be done at anytime of the day and it’s imperative to the creative process.
Katie: So, can you explain what morning pages are? I keep hearing it all the time and I’m not 100% what it means.
Rachel: Morning Pages is a term coined by Julia Cameron who wrote The Artist’s Way, which is a
twelve-week recovery program for all sorts of artists and creative practitioners. Full closure I have never really gone all the way through it, but I know enough to know that morning pages and artist dates are her two big foundational practices that you have to do all the time to stay in touch with yourself. morning pages are supposed to be 3 pages of long hand mental garbage first thing in the morning. I stick to that pretty good.
Katie: What do you do with that?
Katie: You don’t go back and look at it later or do you throw away the journal when it’s done?
Rachel: I never go back and look at it. I have a few shelves, full of notebooks full of morning pages. My husband knows exactly where they are, and if I die first, he’s going to have a big bonfire and he won’t read a single word out of it. That’s my brain, that’s my thoughts.
Katie: That’s nice agreement to have, because I think one of my concerns now days is that someone will read what I’m writing down those journals and I really don’t want anyone to read them. Ever.
Rachel: I completely support burning a journal once you’ve filled it out. Like have yourself a little fire have a cup of tea or a glass of wine and burn it. All of it. Why not? I don’t have kids and I only live with one other person and I know he doesn’t want to know what’s inside those notebooks. He’s not gonna read them.
Katie: Okay, so going back to some of the details of Diamonds in the Dark.
Rachel: I have them do some writing exercises and gremlin burn which you would be somewhat familiar with what that is. That’s all-in preparation, it is supposed to be a form of catharsis to prepare you to clear out your preconceived notions. I mean you can’t clear them out, they’re still gonna be there but at least if you’re aware of them they won’t control you as much. And then we get started with the three principles behind the Buttermelt workshop, which are quarters, tension and completion, and they can all be used together. It will sound like blah blah blah..right now. They are the three things that I hope to try to get across to people while I was coaching the Buttermelt workshop for years. Essentially, it is to slow down, for the love of God, slow down. That’s the most important one.
Completion is to finish your movements and Tension is to put tension and release into your sequences. So, once we illustrate those points we move on to more choreographic tools. But it’s always better and more productive using the other choreographic tools once the Buttermelt principles have been put into your body and investigated. They’re more like the salt and pepper.
Katie: How long is the program? Is it structured, this week and then this week and this week?
Rachel: It’s not structured by week, because I didn’t want people to have that expectation on themselves. My testing group for example. Some of them were very regimented on how they approach the program. But I would not try to do it in less than one month. All of this is really like journaling and some things. Get out your fun notebook, journal some things and then burn them. Some people ended up taking 2 weeks to do just the preparation. There’s no set way to do it correctly. The only way to do it incorrectly is to rush through it
Katie: How do you approach business from a creative aspect?
Rachel: There are a lot of things about running a business that I don’t know. I’ve worked with myself for a long time. For 12 years. So there’s a lot that I do know and there are things that I just kind of stumbled upon on the way, and what I want to at least touch on The Audacity Project. I am so lead by intuition. That’s how all my growth happens. It wasn’t until just recently that I started to include a sense of strategy with that, because I found that being led by intuition is how I operate. That’s how I move forward. But if I don’t create a structure for myself, I get worn out and burnt out. So, if I create a structure for myself, like a strategic approach and a seasonal approach then I can grow my business in a way that makes sense to me and that serves those I most wish to serve best. Without trying to be the biggest all the time, the most prolific all the time. I’m not prolific. It takes me forever to make anything. It takes me forever to write an email, It takes forever to build a program. I’m not the Steven King of offerings.
Katie: You are crucial; you’re the at the center of every program so you have to take care of yourself and make it seasonal so you have rest.
Rachel: The last thing that I wanna do is to steal someone’s money. Which means I have to be able to show up.
Katie: A lot of the stuff that you talk about in The Audacity Project has to do with determining your value and not giving yourself away for free.
Rachel: Unless you are getting some other kind of value for that transaction.
Katie: I’m thinking that applies to the business sense as well. If you’re expanding beyond just performing and you’re actually creating a program, or you’re an educator of some kind, or you’re building a studio or something like that.
Rachel: You bring up a good point. I don’t know if I told you this. I tried to give The Audacity Project away for free 2 or 3 times, with disastrous results. It didn’t work. Now, I can give it away at a discount if I choose. The two three times I tried to give it away for free, there was no skin in the game. All it did made them feel terribly guilty and it made me feel like I had overlooked something, which I did. People need to feel invested in something, that’s why I don’t give it away for free.
Katie: That makes sense. People tend to treat you better and respect you more when you have a certain price associated with your skills and not just doing anything for free.
So, Those are your 2 babies: The Audacity Project and Diamonds in the Dark, do you have any others?
Rachel: No, I have just severed the umbilical cord of Diamonds in the Dark, so the next baby is in the works. To complete the self-guided version of The Audacity Project. And I’m focusing a lot of time and energy on my own work through the Patreon page.
Katie: Aren’t you glad you did that?
Rachel: It made such a difference, It was literally me putting my money where my mouth was.
Yes I am glad I did the really scary thing and made the Patreon. And then people actually gave a sh** and that was really surprising.
Katie: I knew they would.
I like the Patreon because I know that pretty much anything that you do, I’m not going to miss it. Any little spark of creativity, I’m going to see it.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed!
Rachel: You’re welcome. Always good to see you.