Flashdance will be indelibly associated with Pittsburgh for eons to come, like it or not, with ever more connections being made as we speak. The popular 1983 movie put a spotlight on the city, with its bridges and streets, its steel mills, its working class people.
It somehow defined an era.
But people don’t realize that Flashdance was originally written for the stage, but never saw the light of day before it was hustled off to Hollywood. Now that stage version is being “re-imagined,” with much of the well-known movie score intact and some new songs added for good measure.
It gets its world premiere on familiar soil when it opens January 1, 2013 at Heinz Hall. Starring in the show will be Quaker Valley native Matthew Hydzik as Alex’s love interest, Nick, and Green Tree’s Rachelle Rak as Tess, veteran flashdancer and mentor to Alex, played by triple-threat performer Emily Padgett (no body doubles in this version).
But there is a bigger story behind the scenes. Ms. Rak’s mother is Rosalene Kenneth, who only retired a couple of years ago from Rosalene Kenneth’s Professional Dance Studio, one of the staples in the area. Together this mother/daughter team is celebrating 100 years “in the business,” Ms. Rak 25 years on stage and the rest by the resilient Ms. Kenneth.
Let’s start with her.
Ms. Kenneth began her training at the Mamie Barth Studio in Pittsburgh, 16 years in all, with some sojourns to New York City, where she stayed with family while studying with jazz greats like Luigi, Phil Black and Matt Maddox.
Soon she found herself opening for the stars at local nightspots like the Holiday House and Vogue Terrace with her 15 minute song-and-dance act. But that was only on weekends, so she opened a studio.
Although it was suggested that she try her hand at Broadway, Ms. Kenneth turned it down to stay here and raise a family. So she learned all she could about dancing and teaching. “If I couldn’t be on Broadway, I would give them as close to the training they would get in New York right here in Pittsburgh,” she says with a quiet determination.
She taught them all, not only those who had learning disabilities, but others who would go on to perform (choreographer Danny Herman and Broadway veterans Paul McGee and Sarrah Strimel among them). Most would do something else with their lives — nurses, anesthesiologists, accountants, even open their own studios.
Many stayed in touch. Ms. Kenneth has her own Facebook page (Rosalene Kenneth Fan Club), although she hasn’t made her way to the Internet just yet. She relies on word of mouth for all the latest news.
Over the years, the dance studio also provided babysitting services for her two daughters. Renay won her own array of competitions, but, like her mom, got married and settled down. As for daughter Rachelle, it “looked like she wanted to be in the business — she was like a ball of fire. She never wanted to get off the stage.”
Rachelle was also very independent at a young age. Even at age seven, she told her mom to “just leave” her at the Civic Light Opera. “I’ll be fine,” she asserted.
But the two never thought much beyond the studio. Rachelle led, by all accounts, a fairly normal life. Her mother encouraged her to do other things like basketball, cheerleading and the drill team.
Around the age of 15, though, Rachelle started to take her performing more seriously. So did her mom, thinking how her daughter would get to New York and where she would stay.
Their decision was made for them. By 17, Rachelle was in the national touring company of “Cats” and that sealed the deal.
Ms. Kenneth has seen all of Rachelle’s Broadway credits and liked them all. She’s even sure that she will like Flashdance, and will see it three or four times.
She’ll be surrounded by her close and extended family. “You want to see them do something with their lives through dance, not especially dance, but through the experience of meeting other children and all the other things that go with becoming a dancer,” she says. “You can use that in life and that they have done.”
With what sounds like a happy little sigh, she murmurs, “I have no regrets.”