As one half of the choreography duo behind BODYCOMBAT™, which is all about unleashing and empowering yourself, what does empowerment mean to you?
I believe that we’re all born with an incredible power but it’s locked away in a treasure chest. And it’s usually a crisis or a trauma that gives you the key to open the chest. So empowerment for me is using that box of treasure. Everyone’s box is unique and what triggers one person may not trigger another.
I’ve had to harness this power at different stages of my life. My earliest and most traumatic memory of empowerment was when my dad passed away. I was only 18 and I did not see it coming. At that point I had to find out what I was made of, and it was empowering to find that I had all the tools that I needed within me.
How have those moments of empowerment changed you?
Every single trauma in my life has caused me to raise my game. I think an overarching theme for me is the use of my voice. And by that I don’t mean – the voice I use to order coffee with. I mean the voice of my internal desires, wants and ambitions. The voice that speaks on behalf of Rachael – on behalf of the person I really am. Accessing that voice and being able to use it is how I can monitor the evolution of my empowerment.
You know, when we’re children we’re not afraid to say what we want. But this voice can get quashed over the years as we conform to the norms and values of society and behave “appropriately.” There have been times in my life where I have experienced inner conflict and found it very difficult to speak up. Using my voice is super challenging for me – it’s actually beyond difficult – I’m not someone who is predisposed to speaking up. The young Rach just used to choke up and get tears in her eyes and I didn’t have the confidence or the vocabulary to speak up. But that’s changed as I’ve got older and more experienced.
There have been a recent torrent of revelations out of Hollywood – and other industries – about the sexual harassment of women. What does the TIME’S UP campaign mean to you as a woman?
It was really eye opening to realise that what was going on in that industry. It sickened me to think that some of the most powerful and successful female role models in this world had been subjected to that type of abuse. To hear how they endured this demeaning, crushing behaviour made me so sad. I thought, how can I be living in a world that allows this to go on?
The TIME’S UP movement made me think about my own situation. I consider myself to be quite strong and empowered, but I had been suppressing my own personal needs to maintain the status quo. I mean, compared to what they went through, my life challenges were nothing in comparison. But to hear how they were speaking up - and saying that what they went through was unacceptable - helped me to address my own fear of speaking up.
Can you tell me about the type of situation that will cause you to speak up?
In a group situation, if I’m witnessing behaviour that is fundamentally cruel, intimidating or inappropriate, I will speak up on behalf of that person to protect them because I know it’s easier to speak up for someone else than it is to speak up for yourself. When all my senses are firing and warning me and I’ve got this gut feeling that something is wrong, I will have no problem speaking up.
However, being in a one on one situation is totally different. If I’m in it, then I’m not detached from it, so I don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to react and stay in the conversation at the same time. I know myself enough to know that I’m not always right, and experience has taught me to take a step back, listen, and respond once I’ve had a chance to remove my emotional response.
As Program Director of BODYCOMBAT and SH’BAM™, you’re one of the most famous faces at Les Mills. How do you navigate the line between the personal and the professional?
There are times in my life when I have to switch off from any personal crisis or challenge in order to do the job to the best of my ability. I’m sure Instructors will relate to this when I say, there have been times when the world has been crumbling around me and it’s 10 minutes before class and I’ve just had to wipe the tears, get up on stage and deliver a world class workout. It’s even happened during filming week – which is always a really stressful time. I’ve often had to completely dig deep and just focus on teaching my best class when honestly the last thing I want to do is be in front of a crowd of people. Fortunately for me I have an amazing team who I can always rely on to get me through. Thanks DC and the Les Mills Auckland squad.
The thing is – I’m human. To some people I’m someone whose life is full of evasive side kicks and rock star moments. But I’m still human. I face challenges like anyone else. For a long time I didn’t allow myself to think about my own beliefs, desires, wants and dreams. I let work consume me because I loved it so much and I knew in order to be successful I had to give it everything. And the best thing about that was - that it was working! Because everything about my job was and is amazing because I was absolutely born for this. What I wasn’t getting, however, was a return on the effort I was putting into my personal life. And for a successful career woman that is crippling. I desperately wanted my personal life to be a success and every time I hit the ground I’d stand up and put more and more effort in.
What I’ve learned, so far, is that maybe I can’t have everything. I’ve been so blessed to have such an amazing career and maybe I need to accept that my personal life is where the struggle will be. I’m so lucky to be so happy in my career. In my heart I have faith that the right person will surface at the right time and they’ll recognise the greatness in me, not be intimidated by me but be proud of me - support me and encourage me. And I look forward to that moment.
You moved from the UK to New Zealand to become a Program Director for Les Mills. What was the hardest thing about moving to the other side of the world?
I moved here when I was 24 and I hardly knew anyone. The hardest thing was the loneliness. Auckland was a big clique, and Dan (Cohen, Co-Program Director for BODYCOMBAT) and I really missed having our friendship circle around us.
We had been so comfortable in the UK – we felt like we were on top of the world! Then we came here, to the best job in the world, but there was a bit of resentment in Auckland from people who were so sad to have lost our predecessors, the previous program directors, and that’s understandable. You know, these two young English kids come out of nowhere and we had big shoes to fill. We had a lot of prove. It was a hideously challenging and often isolating environment. But it was another empowering opportunity for me to think, it’s sink or swim, Rach.
We had the dream job but at times it felt like it wasn’t the dream life because we really had no friendship circles. We were lucky to have each other. Dan integrated quicker than me. He made friends faster and I was much slower, far more introverted. However, I did eventually make friends and I still have those friendships now. So it was worth the wait.
Can you explain how you bring female empowerment into BODYCOMBAT?
The workout is a piece of me, it’s a piece of my journey. We conceive the workout from the music and the feeling. I really care that people get that feeling when they do the class. It’s got my DNA all over it so when people do my workout I want them to feel empowered because I have poured my personal empowerment perfume (Eau de Rach - business opportunity for someone out there – email me!) all over it. Therefore - they get a part of me.
It’s the same when Dan teaches. You can see the moves where he’s really channelling his testosterone and masculinity. We don’t choreograph separately – all of the tracks are 50/50 input from each of us. For that reason the best bits of us will always come through so we can deliver the best release we can. We think of ourselves as co-parenting the program.
How do you and Dan continue to work together and create amazing releases?
It’s just one foot in front of the other, a LOT of coffee and laughing at one another and knowing each other so well that we can be honest and authentic in our communication. Our love for the program will always dominate the decision making – the program comes first.
Is there anything that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I was mega shy when I was growing up, definitely not the life and soul of the party. I wouldn’t be comfortable in a room full of people. However, when my dad passed away I realised that people can be taken away in the blink of an eye and you never know how much time you have left. And I thought, if my life ended tomorrow, would my dad be proud of what I’d achieved? That made me realize that my shyness was not serving me.
Finding BODYPUMP™ and being able to stand in front of a room full of people at the age of 19 – having had my world collapse – was definitely my happy place. And I discovered that I was good at entertaining people (laughs). I’d never realised because I’d always been happy to be part of the chorus – never the prima ballerina. But teaching gave me the opportunity to discover talents inside me that I’d never known were there.
Who are the female role models in your life?
Definitely my mum for the sacrifices she made in order to raise two kids.
I never idolized celebrities, but there was a lady in my dance school called Tracy who was a good ten years older than me. I was a beefy 13 year old and she was this stunning woman with amazing legs and I admired her. Yeah - I was a big girl when I was growing up! When I was in the dance shows I always had to be the boy, I was never the girl.
I have a great admiration for Jackie (Mills) as it is very challenging to work closely with your partner. I was struggling and I used to look at her and think, how do you do this? And I also have a lot of admiration for Diana (Archer Mills). She’s been there for me through lots of challenging times in my life, and she continues to be. She has that fiery spirit and she just goes for it. She does the risky things I’m not brave enough to do - sometimes that scares me! We have very different approaches to life but we both get through it.
KG (Kylie Gates) came into my life as my creative director for SH’BAM and has become an incredible female role model for me. She continues to support me though my journey and I have been blessed to have her by my side. She gives me strength to find my voice - she’s an incredible coach if anyone is looking for one!
I have a group of girlfriends in the UK and also in Auckland who are massively responsible for helping me stay sane in this crazy world. Where would I be without them? They are all amazing role models.
What does experience mean to you?
If I was going to use a metaphor, it would be the chiselling and the abrasions and the sharp edges that I have acquired on my journey. Experience is the walls, the floors, the ceilings, all the rooms, the faces I’ve seen and the places I’ve passed through that have left their mark on me. Experience has been the making of me and will continue to be.
What would you say to your 18 year old self?
I’m committed to my career and I have faith that things will work out because I give my everything, everyday. So I would tell my 18 year old self, you’re going to be really proud of yourself. Even though it feels like your world is falling apart right now, you’ve got all the tools within you to get through it. You’re going to travel and meet lots of cool people and leave a fabulous legacy that your Dad would be really proud of. Don’t worry, it’s all going to be OK. And when life doesn’t go how you want it to, you will always find a way to see the best, raise your best self off the ground, keep calm and carry on.
How do you keep empowering yourself?
You know, empowerment isn’t a state you suddenly arrive at. It’s a continual process and I feel there are different stages along the way to gaining empowerment. You’ve got to keep trying, be kind to yourself, and keep on coming back because what is behind that door is worth it.
When life throws these dumbass tests my way and I think, what the heck did I do to warrant this? I pause, take a beat, be emotional if it’s gonna help and then - once that’s dealt with - I bring my best self to the sucky test because I know the results outweigh the struggles. And I have a motto, I think it was Churchill that said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going unless you want to stay there”. I reflect on things a lot. I am this way because I hate it when people are reckless with others. I’m a massive believer in being considerate.
But sometimes you have to stop thinking about things too much and just take the test. In fact, that’s something Diana said to me years ago: there’s so much learning going on in your life, Rach. Just take the test already! I was like yes, exactly, I am done learning.
Love hearing about Rach? Click here to find out exactly what she eats in a day, and how she maintains that amazing physique!