Profile of a "Superwoman:" Interview with Christy Rak-Samson

Determination, faith, dedication, the love and support of family and friends, are just a few of key ingredients required success mix according to this Community Activist/Teacher and former Mrs. New Jersey, turned Entrepreneur. Christy Rak-Samson talks dance, career, and her obsession with Mixed Martial Arts with WLLC! Read More after the Jump!

You recently launched FUNKtion.  What is it?
FUNKtion is a new dance studio that my husband Eric and I opened this past September.  The full name of the studio is called The FUNKtion Dance Complex.  We came up with the name when we were looking at all the different styles and forms of dance.  He is a Hip Hop dancer/instructor and I am more into the traditional forms of dance (Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet etc) so we came up with the idea you can find your own “Funk” in any style of dance.  You get to create what type of dancer you would like to be with the various styles that are offered. We encourage our students to be well rounded and versatile where they can pick and choose what forms of dance they want to study. So in the end we like to ask what kind of dancer are you?  “What’s Your FUNKtion?”

Clip from Master Class with Devon Marlink at the FUNKtion courtesy of Youtube...

What type of classes are offered at Funk-tion? Adults and Children?
Experienced and non-experienced?
We offer all types of classes for children thru adults and from beginner to Pre-professional and Professional.  We believe in offering a wide range of classes to get students ready for the NY or LA industry if they so choose to later on in life. We offer: Urban/Hip Hop, Street Jazz/Funk, Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Contemporary,  Jazz, Lyrical Jazz, Voguing, Tap, Stretch and Conditioning, and Zumba. 

We also set aside free space and time on weekends to do different  workshops in all different types and styles of dance. We just recently had Devon Marlink, founder of Sick Step Crew in LA, come out and do a Hip Hop workshop  and another member of that crew, Bryan Pentecoste, came out the following weekend to do a B-boy (breaking) workshop.  We plan on having many more different types of workshops in the near future. 

What makes Funk-tion different from other dance studios?
We are a non-competition, non- recital dance studio. We believe in teaching technique and the art form of dance. We believe if you are paying a lot of money for dance you should get the most out of it.  You don’t want to just work on one or two recital or competition dances for a majority of the dance year. You don’t learn much or grow from that.   It may be fun, but after awhile the student and the teacher both can become bored.  

We also don’t think you should have to pay a lot of “additional” costs as well. At other studios you have to pay for costumes and recital fees and then pictures and videos and let alone all the “hidden costs” people don’t see in those term payments. We charge monthly since we know how hard times can be to pay a lot of money up front.  Our prices are very cheap when you consider all the extra things you don’t have to pay for and all the extra you do get for your money.  

We are happy to be able to provide an alternative for dancers of all ages who don’t want to be a part of the traditional studio scene.  We also have many "open drop in classes" for students who may train at other schools who may want some additional classes or programs their studio may not have or for the adult who wants the freedom to come and take a few classes here and there.  We strive for a positive, drama free environment and really enforce that for a stable fun place to come learn and grow.

How can we get more information on Funktion, classes and enrollment?
We are conveniently  located on 4260 US HWY 1  North  right next to NYSC in South Brunswick, Monmouth Junction.
You can visit us online at www.TheFUNKtiondancecomplex.com  or email us at FUNKtiondancecomplex@gmail.com  or call us at 732- 90- FUNK-1 (903-8651)

What made you decide to develop a business in the field/industry of dance?
I have always been a dancer at heart.  I grew up with dance and it completely changed my life. I always say that if I didn’t have dance I probably would not be the person I am today.  I grew up with a lot of chaos and conflict around me and when I was able to go to dance class, I was able to escape that environment and just be entranced by the music and dance and be free for the time [that] I was there.  I always wanted to be a dancer but had conflicts with my family in agreeing with that dream so I went to college on a track scholarship and studied psychology. The whole time I was always drawn to dance and just continued my studies as a part time dance minor for a little then just went to NY for classes. 

 I started to teach dance while finishing up my degree and knew that was what I wanted to do.  Just dance.  A few years into teaching, I knew one day I would like to own my own studio.  After many years of working for other studios, I felt I had a good grasp on how I would like to run a studio and wanted to come from a different, stress free, and positive approach. No competitions, no major recitals, no hidden costs for parents, just pure dance! That’s what it should be about.   

I grew up in the competition scene and it has its value, but kids are so competitive in a different kind of way now, that it can turn into something very negative very quickly.  It’s also very costly and time consuming, especially if you are working on one dance or piece for most of the year. You have to ask yourself what are you truly getting out of that class, and at what expense?  You spend a lot of money for dance.  Why not learn the most out of the time you are there?
How long have you been a student of dance?
I have been studying dance now for 25 years.  I danced all throughout elementary I danced all throughout elementary  and high school and then pursued dance in NJ and NY at various schools such as Princeton Ballet, Steps, New Dance Group and Broadway Dance Center during the college years.  I currently still train to keep up with the current trends and styles.

What forms of dance do you enjoy the most?
My style has changed a lot over the course of time, but I currently am into the Street Jazz Funk, and Contemporary Jazz.  I still will train in other styles as well, but those are the ones I tend to be most comfortable teaching and performing.  Some people don’t understand what Street Jazz is, and it’s more of an NY industry term for Urban like Choreography with a hip hop flair but does not have all of the technicalities of traditional Urban/Hip Hop classes.  In Urban you could find "House", "B-boying" (breakdancing), "Popping," "Locking," "Voguing," "new jack swing," "Waackin’"… and "street jazz" is more choreography based that may incorporate some of the hip hop style and attitude but also has a jazz base and root incorporated into as well.  

Do you teach any classes at the new studio? Which ones?
I do teach.  I love teaching and think I would go stir crazy if I didn’t. I teach some of the younger kid classes to build their foundation for technique while creating that passion and joy of dancing. I mostly teach them jazz and some lyrical.  For the older kids, teens and adults, I do a lot of the street jazz.  We have classes for all ages and really want to put a different spin on things and have incorporated "Open Drop In Classes" for adults to attend during the week to keep up with training, or for those who just love to continue to dance. It’s really hard to find classes in the NJ area for older teens and adults at a reasonable rate.  You usually have to travel to NY to take classes. We would ultimately love to create a "Broadway Dance Center" of our own, but right here in NJ.

You are very passionate about various causes related to the care, protection, and enrichment of children. Was the FUNKtion born out of your desire to work with kids?
I have always loved kids! Anyone that knows me will tell you that. Even from a young age I would always "oooh and ahhhh" over babies and kids. It’s actually kind of a joke with my family and friends like, “Oh, no…here she goes again!” I just can’t help it.  Kids have such innocence about them and their smiles can light up the room.  I have always been an advocate for kids and preserving that very innocence and free spirit of childhood and youth.  Kids are growing up so fast now a days with so much to get themselves in trouble with.   

Many kids may also come from a broken home and you never truly know a person’s background. So, if a kid can come to my studio and spend a few hours of their time in a positive, healthy environment, then I will call this studio a success. It’s not just about a “business” or money or anything like that, to me, it’s so much more.  I want kids to have a safe place to come to "de-stress," learn something new and have fun at the same time. I want kids to be able to walk out of here with the self -confidence and self-esteem they need not only to pursue a career in dance, but in everyday life as well.

You have also been doing some work in stage acting. In what productions and in what roles have you played?
I used to take a lot of different acting classes when I was a little younger and then kind of stopped  a few years back to get involved with some other interests as well.  I did a few commercials and extra [roles] stuff in movies filmed in NY. 

As far as the stage is concerned I did some back up dancing for new performing artists, which was fun and I also did some musical theater productions. I don’t get to do many productions due to the fact that I teach and work during the year, so I am limited to the summers.  

I did "Ragtime", "Footloose," in the past and "The Wedding Singer" this past summer all at Plays- In-The-Park in Edison. All of the roles were ensemble roles [in] which I was able to dance.  Let’s just say I’m more of a dancer and not a singer! (Laughing) That’s all I ever really wanted anyway. I was able to be the dance captain in all of the shows which means more to me than a lead role. I get to help other people with things and that is so fulfilling.  It’s so much fun to rehearse and put the music and the choreography together.  It’s incredible to see how you can put up this huge show in just a few weeks. It’s a lot of work but so rewarding and so much fun! 

Is acting a career path you hope to continue to pursue in the future? What’s your dream role?
Now that I am back to dance full time and teaching and am a part of the world of the arts again, I am definitely getting the acting bug.  Since doing the show this past summer, it definitely sparked an interest in acting again. I would still love to be a part of the musicals and perhaps do another production over the summer, but I would like to concentrate on doing some commercials or T.V. roles. 

I am open to pretty much anything at this point. As far as my “dream role,” if it were a musical production, I would have to say "Mimi" from [the play]  Rent. I like her edgy character and [that] girl gets to dance and go crazy on stage. I feel I can pull off her look pretty well. Now that I have gotten a little bit older I am even more comfortable in my own skin and have more confidence to just go out and have fun with acting instead of stressing about it. 

Tell us about your pageant experience? Good, Bad? How did you get into that? 
I would have to say my first pageant experience was a little crazy.  I did one or two local ones and wound up winning one of them. That then sent me to Miss New Jersey which was the preliminary to Miss America.  I did not have a clue as to what the heck I was doing! I was a hot mess!! I had such a blast and was so not concerned with “winning” that I had a great time! 

The one thing I was not prepared for was the judge’s interview. It was so hard core and intense. You really needed to be well spoken and current with all the current news events and trends.  The Miss America system was looking for that girl who was smart, confident and well spoken. You also had to have a talent as well (that’s the part that hooked me, I was able to dance) It is a scholarship program geared toward young women pursuing a college career and is strongly based around the individual’s platform too.

After doing that pageant at 20, I didn’t do any other pageants (and was quite intimidated after that judges interview, to be honest) and enjoyed having experienced the one.  My platform was The Importance of Role Models and Mentors in Children’s lives (of course) and I danced to Whitney Houston’s song Greatest Love All (about kids, see it’s always been something important).

My best friend sent me some newspaper clipping for a Mrs. New Jersey America Pageant information session.  I didn’t have a real big desire to do it at first but I wanted to find different ways to build up more self-confidence with the whole public speaking thing. 

I [had] lost my brother John to a drug overdose a few years prior to this and also wanted to find ways to have a voice to speak about this type of thing. I wanted to be able to talk to kids about drugs and how to have a positive outlook on life and be an advocate for teaching them about the dangers that drugs lead to. 

 I did the pageant in 2005 and came in 3rd runner up and was ecstatic! I was so happy to just make it past that darn judge’s interview! It was not that bad after all.  I had such a great time learning and growing from the director and some really amazing women who had such great platforms as well.  My platform this time around was Substance Abuse Awareness and Prevention.  Unfortunately there is no “talent” portion of the pageant since they say balancing career, family and everything else is talent in itself! 

I decided to come back the next year and see how much more growth I could get. I was definitely getting better at the public speaking and knew this was a good avenue to get my feet wet as far as being able to get my foot in the door to reaching out to kids and schools to talk to them about my platform. (sic)  A few months before this pageant I lost my second brother Robby to a drug overdose too. It became very clear to me that I had a mission and a purpose to this pageant.  I could sulk and feel sorry for myself and my family or do something about it. I chose the latter. 

 I then started to volunteer for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Middlesex County. I wanted to learn more and prepare myself to be able to help other people and families in need.   I made the top 5 and was pleased with that news. Top 5 turned into top 3, then top 2, and it’s me and this beautiful former Eagles Cheerleader with brains and beauty standing next to me.  

 So I was in shock to even be standing next to her!  They announced my name next and just assumed it was for the 1st runner up so I was so happy for her and started to clap for her.  Then she stepped back and was clapping for me! My face turned beat red and I was shocked! Not the fake “Oh, I won.” shocked, but really shocked!  I just started to cry. I could not believe it! It had been a rough few months to even get up there and do that, but I had some angels watching over me.  I looked in the audience and could see my husband beaming from ear to ear and my dad was in the audience too and he just dropped to his knee and started to cry.  He had gone through so much with both the boys passing away and had been really depressed.  This definitely help to shed some light on all that he was going through. I was happy to be able to do that for him and hopefully for other people or families that may suffer from this disease of addiction.

I had won the title of Mrs. New Jersey America 2006-2007.  Once I got back from Mrs. America, it was work time.  I went to several different schools and high schools talking to kids about drugs and sharing my own person family story.  I got a great response from some of these kids which made every struggle every time I was too tired to go and speak a million times worth it! I also did many appearances at charity events and walks did a lot of parades, trade shows, conventions. I even got to throw out the first pitch at local Minor League baseball games.  All in all I made over 125 appearances throughout the state of NJ during my reign. 

 I took my job and role very seriously.  I used to get upset when people (mainly adults) would snicker or laugh because I had a crown and sash.  I felt like some people looked at it like a joke or that you just look pretty and wave, but for me it was so much more than that.  My husband Eric would always remind me at times when I wanted to take my crown off or something that it was not about those people, but it was about the kids. That always made it better. The little girls when they would see the crown lit up and were so excited. I was a “princess” in their eyes and that was priceless!  I had the most amazing experience meeting so many different people and doing different things.  But the most memorable thing was having young girls come up to me after an assembly or speech and say to me that I inspired them and that they have faith they can make it through any of the struggles they might be going through.  What a blessing! 

What other activities, causes are you involved in or passionate about?

 I became a prevention educator and went to a lot of different schools within Middlesex County and taught programs in the schools.  NCADD has a research and evidence based program for early intervention with kids in the 2nd and 3rd grade called Footprints For Life, and it’s about making healthy decisions and choices during every step throughou their life’s journey.   I am also the coordinator for a program called Strengthening Families which is geared towards adolescents and their parents. They come together to learn how to better communicate with each other and how to learn about what their strengths and goals are as a family. 

I am also pleased to say I just received news last week that I completed and passed my certification to be a Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS) which I had to attend 140 hours of education and study and many hours of training in the field. Besides the programs, NCADD serves as a prevention and referral and resource agency for Middlesex County and is part of NJPN (New Jersey Prevention Network). It has affiliates in most all of the counties in NJ.  People can call for help with and addiction problem and we can help to refer them to a place that they could get help and treatment.

Other causes I am passionate about are continuing doing charity events for Susan G. Komen, Alzheimer’s Association, The American Cancer Society, and am a big supporter of the Alliance for Lupus Research.  Our studio is going to walking as a group and also dancing at the Central Jersey Walk on Oct.23rd. I think it’s important for the kids to learn to be a part of community and charity events.  I also bring some our students to other charity events and fundraisers as well.  They recently went to and danced at Breaking The Cycle 2010 to help raise money for an Aids benefit in NY.  

You wear many hats daily: wife, actress, entrepreneur, how do you maintain a sense of balance and set priorities?
That’s a good question!  I definitely do run all over the place.  If someone needs help or  anything like that, I always make the time.  I have to write a lot of reminders and post its to keep me on track.  One great thing with the business is that my husband and I are a team. We got each other’s backs. (sic) Even though I do most of the planning and managing, he will jump in to help balance things out. 

I find some “me” time too which helps you to be focused and less stressed.  If you are stressed all the time you can’t be your best with your family, spouse, work and the students. That’s why especially with women you need to take a moment or two a day to check in with yourself and make sure you are good. If you are good the others around you will be too. I think one of the biggest priorities that people ignore is themselves.  A bath at night or a walk with the dog or just listening to music in your car all count as nice moments.  Turn off the cell and just relax for a few minutes a day and maybe take a couple of deep breaths. That helps to relax me when I’m stressed or nervous about something.  

What or who are you inspires you?
I’m inspired by making it to the next day.  Life is too short and to sit and complain about every little thing wastes too much time and energy.  I am inspired by the countless selfless individuals who get up each day to make someone else’s day better. I’m inspired by the people who lose everything and can turn around and say things will be ok.  I am constantly inspired by the brave unending spirit of those who fight each day to make it through being sick or injured or who recover from life threatening injuries. It makes you put your own life in perspective and think twice about “how hard” you may have it. We all go through are ups and downs and I definitely have had my moments, but it’s part of our journey.  I have been blessed by coming across these individuals who make me step back and put myself in check.   

To pick an icon or someone like that, as "cheesy" as it is it, would have to be Oprah.  I used to just sit in front of the T.V as a young girl and marvel at how smart and well-spoken she was and how she was able to give and help so many people.  Being Bi-Racial and just raised by my father, who is white, I didn’t have that many black or female role-models growing up. She became someone I wanted to emulate.

In your pursuit of your goals and dreams what type of setbacks have you had to overcome? 

I was also adopted right from birth.  My mother was young when she had me and wanted for me to have more than what she could provide for me.  An adoption was arranged through different family members and parties and I was adopted into an all-white family.  Since my mother was white no one thought it was a big deal until I was born.  My biological father is Black and no one knew that for a little while after I was born. Then my mother told them the news and it was "ok" at first but then things got a little uncomfortable for my new adopted mother and she wanted to give me back when I was a toddler.  
My “adopted” father did not want to, and then took me and his two boys, John and Robby and raised us.  They would go to see their mom on the weekends sometimes and holidays but I was not ever allowed to go. It was a little tough growing up without a mom. I had friends’ parents to help out and be there growing up, but it was not the same.  My father was also an alcoholic and that was definitely hard to deal with. I had trouble figuring out who I was and what was my purpose. (sic)

Then my dad enrolled me in dance classes and I fell in love.  I still always had to go back home, but it gave me purpose and meaning and I had a second family to go to when things got rough. That’s why it’s important for me to be able to do the same thing for a kid who may go through something similar.  

To what do you attribute your strength, resilience, and positive outlook? 
I get asked that a lot. I can’t really say it’s any one particular thing besides God.  I had a lot of things against me growing up and through life and I know he does not give you what you can’t handle.  He gives me strength through the good and bad times. Sometimes you may not understand why you have to go through certain things, but if you “Let go and Let God” then things will be "ok."  Even when you may feel like cursing the world. I also think getting involved with sports and dance when I was younger helped shape who I am today. When you have positive caring adults around you, that helps to build protective factors which builds resiliency. I had that in dance. 

How do you blow off steam??
Believe it or not, I am really into MMA (mixed martial arts). I started over two years ago and it really helps to relieve a lot of stress.  I get to punch and kick it out and that always feels good.  I also compete in kickboxing and grappling. It’s a little crazy, I know, but I guess that’s my competitive athletic side coming out. I had to recently take a step back from that to open the studio, but I hope to go back to it real soon.  I am about to get my high brown belt and would like to finish my goal of getting my black belt. 

What are the 5 things you can't live without?
 Besides my Hubby, and Family and friends....it would be my pets, my computer(news, T.V, movies, music, network etc..) bread, chocolate, and God. 

What songs are on heavy rotation in your i-pod right now?
I worked with a former student recently who is in the band New Royalty.  So her whole CD is playing right now.  I also love a bunch of different types of music. It all depends on my mood.  I love to listen to Beastie Boys when I’m feeling in an old school mood and a little Mary J Blige when I need some inspiration.  A little Linkin Park to get me pumped up to do some MMA or Alicia Keys to belt a few notes (in the car of course). I also just choreographed to Adele and love her smooth sound.  I also listen to the current pop and R&B songs for choreographing too.  I just get bored with music that is on the radio and is always repeated over and over. So I like to mix it up sometimes. 

What do you hope to be doing in 5 years?
Since I have been so passionate about helping other people’s kids, I would love to have a family of my own.  I am hoping to get things settled with the studio in the next year or so and then hopefully I can focus a little more on kids of my own, but for now the students at the studio are my kids.   I would also like to give a go at being a talent or scout agent or a manager of some sort. (sic) I think that would be fun and I would like to bring a positive spin and approach to the industry.

 Any regrets?
This is a silly one but I made the Sixers dance team (well almost) and had to go for a final interview and I never went. I wound up having to drive someone home from something and never was going to make it in time, so I never went.  I still regret that till this day.  The lady who ran it at the time called me at home later that day and told me she had to give up my spot on the team.  I told her I understood and that was that. That would have been such a great experience, but I always remind myself that some things are not always meant to be. 

Thank you Christy for taking time out of your obviously hectic schedule to share a bit of your story with the readers of WLLC!  Finding fullfillment in sharing her talent with the community she has been and will continue to be a  positive influence in the lives of those around her.

Be sure to check out the website for FUNKtion Dance Complex www.TheFUNKtiondancecomplex.com

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