Rachael Markarian, Professional Dancer and Actress

Editor’s Note:  No doubt about it, when you see Rachael Markarian, you know she's a star.  Her Instagram profile is brimming with stunning, captivating photos that also manage to come across as completely relatable (in a supermodel’esque kinda way).  When Rachael and I ended up connecting and chatting on the phone, I realized instantly that there is more than meets the eye with this gorgeous girl.  Rachael is a candid, open-book, the kind of friend you want to have fancy cocktails with one day and sit in sweats watching The Bachelor with the next.   She has worked INSANELY hard to become one of the most talented / famous / sought-after performers in the entertainment industry, performing alongside Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Pink…and the list goes on…and on…and on.  For every aspiring dancer / actor / singer out there, Rachael is *the* role-model you’ve been looking for, willing to dole out sage advice compiled from years of hard work, rejection and success. I’m honored to tell her story and follow her incredible journey.  Brava Rachael, may you continue to shine!

Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Rachael Markarian was brought into this world with the odds stacked against her.  Born with a slight handicap, her parents were told by doctors that their daughter would eventually walk properly, but would never grow up to become a dancer or model.

“My mom is extremely petite so when she was carrying me, I was tucked under her ribs.  When I was delivered my feet and hips were pointing in the opposite direction. My feet were completely inverted and my toes were pointing backwards.”

As a baby, Rachael was put in leg braces for multiple hours a day to try and correct the inversion.  Her mom, tenacious and determined like her daughter, decided that even though doctors had said her daughter would never dance, she’d prove them wrong.

Rachael with her mom, Robin / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Rachael with her mom, Robin / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

At three-years-old, Rachael's mom enrolled her in ballet and jazz, challenging her body to move in ways the doctors had told her she’d never be able to do.

“I was terrible and I hated the classes for a good seven-years.  Every one of my teachers told my mom that they thought I was cute, but they felt like they were taking her money because I had no future in dance! {laughs}  My mom would tell them nope, we’re just going to stick with it.”

At the same time, Rachael’s two older brothers were both enrolled in private school.  Their tuition coupled with Rachael’s dance classes was a heavy financial burden for her parents, to the extent that Rachael’s mom decided to start working a second job at one of her dance studios to offset the cost of tuition.

“My mom is wonder-woman.  While she was working in the offices of the dance studio, I would sit in the hallway and watch the older, more advanced students in class. I was constantly in awe of them, I wanted to imitate them and be like them…I loved how they looked so beautiful and confident and I thought, ‘oh, this is what dance could be like.'"

Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

By high school, Rachael had developed a deep love of dance. She attended a Performing Arts school, where she was able to dance two hours a day during school hours and eventually assist the director of the dance department. This same director, Joan Sheary, also owned the dance studio Rachael trained at after school was done for the day.

Occasionally, Rachael’s mom would bring her to concerts so she could see professional dancers in their element.  It was at one of these concerts, Janet Jackson, that Rachael saw the dancer that would become her idol, mentor, and encourage her to pursue her love of dance professionally.

“Her name was Tina Landon and she was just amazing. As I stared at her, I thought to myself ‘I want to give people who are sitting in the audience the same experience that Tina is giving me.’” 

Tina Landon and her longtime Assistant, Jason Myhre backstage at the ALMA Awards in 2014 / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Tina Landon and her longtime Assistant, Jason Myhre backstage at the ALMA Awards in 2014 / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Rachael was dancing virtually every day for up to seven hours per day, between class and dance team rehearsals and studio lessons. It was during those early years that she decided that dancing was what she wanted to do full-time.

 “It was that fearlessness you have as a kid, thinking to yourself, ‘well yeah! Of course I’m going to do this professionally!  Why WOULDN’T it work out?! {laughs} At that point in life, you’re not jaded.  As you get older you have all these experiences that create fear and what-ifs that make you scared about going after what you want.  But when you’re a kid and you lack that fear, you just automatically assume that if you want to do something, you’ll be able to do it.”

At the age of 15, a friend had suggested that Rachael try out for a scholarship program through Steps on Broadway in New York City.  In exchange for part-time work at the front desk, dancers admitted would get a world-class education in the heart of the city.   The only problem?  Rachael and her family didn’t live anywhere close to NYC.

“My parents moved me into a sublet with another dancer who was ten years older than me.  To this day I can’t imagine how nervous they must have been letting their 15-year-old live in New York City on her own!  But they trusted me and were behind me.”

That summer was a turning point for her.  As Rachael was exposed to a variety of styles of dance, her technique and skill was honed, and also her complete dedication to the craft.

Dancing for Katy Perry on her 'Candy Land' inspired tour, The California Dreams Tour / photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Dancing for Katy Perry on her 'Candy Land' inspired tour, The California Dreams Tour / photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Before she headed off to college, Rachael was offered a position with the world famous Rockette's on their tour, as well as a job dancing for Disney in Tokyo, Japan. She decided to pursue college instead, knowing the importance of having that experience as a young adult. She also trusted that if these opportunities were presenting themselves to her at age 18, they'd be there for her a few years down the road.

Rachael chose Oklahoma City University for their highly regarded reputation in Dance and Musical Theatre.  She became a Dance Performance major and took a variety of dance, music and acting classes, as well as courses that educated her on stage craft and behind the scenes work in the theatre.

At the same time, Rachael had she struggled with the idea of continuing on to graduate. During her semesters off she'd drive out to Los Angeles to train and work professionally, which exposed her to a whole other side of the entertainment industry. She fell in love with LA and the endless possibilities it offered for a performer.

A Young Rachael with her father taken at her Aunt and Uncle’s Wedding / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

A Young Rachael with her father taken at her Aunt and Uncle’s Wedding / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

At the age of 18, right in the middle of her freshman year at Oklahoma City University, Rachael’s father passed away unexpectedly. Rachael calls it a turning point, a moment where she realized “life is now.”

Not too long after, she decided to leave school and move to LA to pursue her career full force. She told her mom, who assured her that she’d support her emotionally during this transition, but reminded her that she was in the "real world" now and would have to financially support herself as a real adult would.

 “I thought to myself, if I was going to give up a degree and leave school, I better prove to everybody that I can make in this industry.”

Overhead shot of Super Bowl Halftime Show dancing for Beyonce in 2013/ Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Overhead shot of Super Bowl Halftime Show dancing for Beyonce in 2013/ Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

She saw her roommates and friends, also dancers, working several jobs as bartenders, waitresses, etc.  Rachael admired their work ethic but recognized how hard it was to juggle last-minute auditions while also working a side-job.

“I decided that if I was going to do this, I had to be fully committed to it, which was really hard financially at times but required that complete dedication to booking as many jobs as I could.” 

Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Her agent, who she had known from a few years back, had told her to grow out her short hair and be realistic about the jobs she’d book as a 5’8” dancer.

“Back then, most of the major artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were shorter than me, and generally artists don't hire dancers that are taller than them. Usually, the artist and dancers need to be around the same height. This really limited things for me and the types of jobs I could do, or so I was told."

Two weeks after she arrived in LA, she went to an audition for the movie ‘Haunted Mansion’ with Eddie Murphy.  The only problem, it was for a ballroom dancing scene and Rachael had never done ballroom dancing in her life.

“They told me to wear a formal dress, and the only one I had was my prom dress from high school!  {laughs} It worked to my advantage though because it covered my feet, which was a good thing because I didn’t know what I was doing.  I grabbed a random partner and watched the dancers before me to see what they were doing before I was up.”

The choreographer was watching Rachael, singling her out as an example of perfect upper body form for all of the other dancers to see.  After the audition, the choreographer's assistant followed her out to her car and gave her the dates for the fitting, offering her the position on the spot.

Behind the Scenes shot during a tech rehearsal with Chayanne for the Latin Billboard Awards. / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Behind the Scenes shot during a tech rehearsal with Chayanne for the Latin Billboard Awards. / Photo Courtesy Rachael Markarian

Having a movie under her belt, Rachael went on to dance at the MTV Movie and Music Award Shows and several Industrial Shows for major companies like Reebok, Nike and Adidas.

After about nine months, things started slowing down and she found herself completely depleted of savings.  Rachael wasn’t sure how she was going to pay her bills and was on the verge of panic, knowing the financial responsibility was her's entirely.

 “At that exact moment, I got a call about a huge Latin Artist named Chayanne who was really tall and looking for tall dancers. I went to the audition and there were hundreds of girls there, and they ended up hiring me and my roommate…she’s blonde and I have dark black hair, and we dance very much the same.”

When her agent called to let her know she booked Chayanne's World Tour, with rehearsals starting the very next day, Rachael asked for an advance to help pay her bills until her first paycheck came in.

"I always had faith that things would work out.  There was just this confidence that I had knowing that everything would sort itself out.  I knew that it would take one or two jobs to propel my career forward, and that's what happened."