Another Friday, another #FEMMEFEATUREFRIDAY! This week is all about the one and only Rhapsody James. This incredible woman has been in the industry for years and has spread her light to so many people. Not only has she worked with all of your favorite artists in the industry, but she's also been a mentor to so many dancers over numerous generations. Rhapsody has a huge heart and is truly passionate about seeing everyone around her succeed. She deeply cares and selflessly shares everything she has learned with every dancer that crosses her path.
Rhapsody James began her career as a choreographer after receiving her BFA at Purchase College (NY). Born in Brooklyn, her first job was at Sony Music as an Executive Assistant, which planted the seed for her foray into the commercial dance industry. James quickly became a lead choreographer for the NBA New Jersey Nets Dance Team and a principal dancer in the acclaimed, Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See music video by Busta Rhymes. Keeping up her flair for business and choreography, Rhapsody parlayed those roles into appearances on the commercial dance world’s leading stages: MTV's TheGrind, VH-1 80's Dance Party, VH-1 Fashion Awards and Lip Service. A few of her other credits include Beyoncé, Madonna, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, J.Lo, and Puff Daddy.
Rhapsody is extremely well known for all her amazing choreography, but what we also love about this outstanding woman is her dedication to teaching and her ability to bring out the best in her students all around the world. Rhapsody James has several programs where she educates and guides dancers to reach their fullest potentials. She is the Artistic Director/ Choreographer of R.E.D. (Rhapsody En Dance), the Director/Creator of a multimedia cabaret show Siren Assassins, and the Artistic Director of her Commercial Dance Training Program called Motivating Excellence. Wow, right!? This woman can do it all and above all of her accomplishments, she has a heart of gold and exudes an infections energy that we absolutely adore. We are thrilled we got to sit down with her and chat! Get ready to be inspired!
How have you embraced your authentic voice in all avenues you lead? (Creative directing, dancing, choreographing and teaching)
Well, it has been a long journey for me to embrace my authentic voice. I have always been someone who has taken a risk on my artistry. My mom always told me "The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn't work out, and if it doesn't, you pick up and start again". As my career developed and I learned the downside of the industry my voice became silenced. I always felt like "The Industry" silenced me, but actually it was ME. I had become so concerned with being like everyone else. I felt like being myself wasn't enough. So I sought out for what was working in the public eye. During this process, my creative voice became more quiet and I became more insecure. After years of pushing through these insecurities I realized that the voice that lives inside of me is BOLD, STRONG and POWERFUL and it can no longer be quiet. So today, I embrace my creative authentic voice fully and unconditionally. I am a creative artist with so much to say. I am much more happier in my voice now because I realize that there is only ONE Rhapsody and I love who she has become.
What woman has inspired you along your journey the most?
This may sound a bit cliche, but I definitely have to say my mom. She passed away from ALS (Lou Gherricks diesease) in 2008, but I hold on to her words and loving support with me everyday. There is not one day that goes by that I don't think of her and how she was the best mom a daughter can have. Although my mom is the first and biggest, I have a list a woman who have INSPIRED and played an IMPORTANT part in my life (Some of them may not even know): Helen Collen, Rachel Noelle, Kim Battiste, Sheila Barker, Debbie Allen, Shawnette Heard, Tina Landon, Mia Michaels, Debbie Blackwell-Cook. All of these woman are so strong and resilient and have helped me so much during my journey. I am grateful for women like this.
What do you consider the greatest challenge females face and what do you believe we can do to overcome that?
I feel the greatest challenge that a female can face is being UNDERESTIMATED! Females are often stereotyped as not being strong enough or not smart enough. It fuels me when someone underestimates me as female. I am the first one that wants to prove them wrong and work 10 times harder. The way we overcome this is by continuing to break boundaries that we as woman are not expected to break. Staying educated, healthy and spiritually motivated will keep us far ahead of the game. I also feel that if women could unite more and not hate on each other we can conquer all.
We love that you founded Motivating Excellence, a commercial dance training program. Can you tell us about how this experience has shaped you as a woman?
Motivating Excellence has been such a wonderful experience. I have learned so much from M.E. Every season that has gone by I have learned from. I have been so inspired by the M.E Alumni. While in the program they trusted me and my staff and committed themselves to the program. Now I see all M.E Alumni doing GREAT things and it makes my heart so fulfilled to know that I helped them understand their gift and how to use this gift to become a better creative artist.
When I created M.E. it was under the sole notion to educate the next generation dancer. I found that in 2009 there was a new generation of dancers that did not know much about dance history and what it takes to be a commercial dancer. I also found out that there was no program that catered SPECIFICALLY to the commercial dancer. There were many programs in Ballet, Jazz, Tap and Theater dance but none in Commercial Dance. So me being the person that I am I decided to put my teaching where my mouth is and in 2010 I decided to start the first ever Commercial Dance program.
I called it Motivating Excellence as an acronym of M.E because I believe no matter what happens in this Commercial Dance business you will always be left with one person and that is YOURSELF. If you know yourself then you can move through this industry as a better person. You want to validate yourself instead of feeling that you need others to validate you.
After 7 years and 172 students later, I am still excited to get in the room with dancers that want to train hard and become the best that they can be. I like to call my program "a classic vintage" program. I say this because I train my students/dancers with the same intensity that I grew up on. To train in Motivating Excellence you are agreeing to train hard (physically and mentally), challenge yourself, sweat, gain self-motivation, strengthen work ethic skills, be creatively pushed and the biggest thing... to be told THE TRUTH.
In today's dance generation I feel the biggest thing missing is PROCESS. Due to the social media world we live in, PROCESS has been sacrificed for QUANTITY. I see many new dancers and choreographers short changing their gift to push out something quick to keep up with the speed of social media. In Motivating Excellence we teach you to understand that PROCESS lends its hand to "your" PROGRESS. The more you nurture your craft and creative voice, the louder this voice can be heard for all to hear.
What advice would you tell you 10 year old self?
I would advise my 10 year old self to listen to her inner creative voice and enjoy every moment in dance and in life. Because as you get older life will get tougher and when the going gets tough, you want to remember this honest creative feeling that you have as a 10 year old. You will need it. :)
What’s your definition of a YGTGirl?
My definition of YGTGirl is one who is fearless and is willing to step out on the ledge for her creative self.
A girl who is okay to fail and know that failing at one thing isn't failing at everything.
A girl who knows that she is strong and has so much to offer the world.
A girl who is a friend and sister and gives her support when needed.