How Rachel Hamrick Went From Professional Ballerina to Flexistretcher Founder
Courtesy Rachel Hamrick
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Nearly 15 years later, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
Rachel Hamrick, Renata Pavam Photography.
A Change Of Course
After dancing in Seoul, Hamrick moved to Europe, eventually joining the Hungarian National Ballet when she developed severe stomach pain. "When I was home on break, I went to the doctor's, and they ended up doing emergency surgery to remove a tumor they thought was cancerous," she says.
"At the time, dancer rehabilitation wasn't as big as it is now, so I was left on my own," she recalls. "As soon as I felt like I could move, I just started throwing myself back into ballet class. I lost mobility in areas that I didn't know how to retrain, and I started getting dance-related injuries because I was so weak. I needed to step outside of ballet class, so I started taking Pilates."
Rachel Hamrick demonstrates one of the Flexistretcher's many exercises.
Nearly ten years into her professional dance career, Hamrick moved to New York City. "I had a foot injury that never really healed, and I decided to start my Pilates certifications," she says. "The way they break it down with learning the movements and anatomical awareness, it just all started making sense. I wish I had known all of this information during my recovery process, or better yet, when I was a student." It was with that in mind that Hamrick started focusing on the beginnings of Flexistretcher.
How It Works
Made with durable nylon and adjustable straps, the Flexistretcher uses custom strength elastic that provides enough give while still requiring you to engage your muscles to be able to hold you leg in place. "It's not just for whacked out flexibility, which I think is what people initially assume," she says. "You can use the product for strength-focused exercises, and it can act as your portable Pilates Reformer. Even with your flexibility exercises, because you're working against the elastic, it's an inherent strength training program. It won't force your leg if you don't have that range of motion, so just to be able to hold a position while pushing against the elastic, you're holding an isometric contraction."
Hamrick has expanded her business to include training products like massage balls and apparel, and even classes "When I was younger, I would take tennis balls to massage my muscles, but they would always pop when you put weight on them because they're hollow," she says. "That's the idea behind my massage Infinity ball," which was designed to withstand pressure while you roll out your muscles without bruising them.
Hamrick designs her dancewear with materials that are breathable and provide moisture wicking to hold up to a long day in the studio while still being flattering on the body. "I didn't want bulky knitwear that is constantly falling down and doesn't breathe well when you start sweating," she says. "Especially with dancers getting so into their cross-training, it makes sense to me to have a line they can wear in rehearsal or to the gym."
Hamrick has also started teaching her own classes at the Capezio flagship store in NYC. Developing classes for all ages and levels, Hamrick even holds workshops for teachers to learn the Flexistretcher themselves. "They can implement the classes in their school, and then the kids are able to learn and become more anatomically aware."
Rachel Hamrick teaches a FLX Training class at the Capezio store in NYC.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?