By Valerie Bisharat
Occupation: Funny you should ask. Rachel’s a working actor, group fitness instructor certified in Pilates, HIIT, TRX, and barre, a yoga teacher certified in pre and post-natal, a doula, and a Wilhelmina fitness model.
Hometown: Oakland, California
Current Neighborhood: West Harlem
College: The Juilliard School
Pounding music, sleek white floors. Spin bike whirring to my left. I sit waiting at BFX studio in Chelsea wondering what this wonder woman will be like. When I meet her, I see immediately; Rachel Nicks has the subtle command of an actor coupled with the relaxed air of an athlete. As we mosey to breakfast she is cracking jokes by minute two.
But our conversation takes a more focused turn when we sit down to discuss building a career guided by passion, breaking the 9-5 mold, and the trials and tribulations of life in New York City. Not a moment goes by when I’m not curious about what will spill forth next. This lady? She’s one to watch.
So, obviously I have to ask: how did you become an actor-trainer-doula-model? I’ve never heard of that before.
After graduating from high school, I went to Juilliard. I worked right out of school, did a movie, and moved out to LA.
I was in LA for 5 years and things were tough at the time because the writer’s strike happened and the economy crashed–so the whole industry shifted. Work wasn’t as easy to get.
At that time, I was too young and bored for regular yoga. But then I found hot yoga and loved it. I ended up–just out of curiosity and love for the philosophy–doing the teacher training and that unlocked Pandora’s box.
At the time, I was in an unhealthy relationship and because of the yoga teachings I realized I’d be able to make it on my own. In a way, fitness is meaningful for me because it empowered me as a woman to be on my own separate from my relationship.
I’d always taken barre classes in LA but decided to get the training because I wanted to move back to New York. I always missed New York, and once my relationship ended, I gave myself the goal of moving back to New York in six months.
What happened once you came back to New York?
I was prepared for it to be a hard market to break into. I busted my butt, subbed whatever classes I could, and ended up getting on the schedule full time at Exhale.Then I started noticing that a lot of my students were pregnant, and I didn’t feel comfortable training them. I had, like, one page of notes on prenatal fitness from my trainings. I was like, “This is not enough!” So, I got my prenatal and postnatal certifications. Then about a year ago, I started toying with the idea of becoming a doula. My boyfriend encouraged me to just do it. So I did!
One day, one of my students saw me reading The Doula Book for my course and said, “I’ll be your first client.” We had an amazing natural birth at NYU. So much of my life has been about being center stage as an actor and teacher. As a doula, I have the gift of being in full service to someone else and the opportunity to witness new life. It’s a truly magical experience; I’ve done 3 births and have another one next month!
And how about the fitness modeling? I know you’re signed with Wilhelmina.
Fitness modeling wasn’t even in my frame of reference. It only happened because when I was working at Exhale [which is a barre studio], a couple of the teachers and I shot with Athleta one day and someone on set asked if I modeled, long story short, it was one of those situations where someone says he’d help you and he did. He hooked me up with Wilhelmina. I sent them images, and Wilhelmina signed me.
Fitness empowered me as a woman. It helped me get out a verbally abusive relationship and know I could make it on my own.
Growing up, did you know you wanted to be in fitness?
I played soccer growing up, so I was always athletic. But when I graduated acting school, “fitness” wasn’t really a career path, at least like it is today, so, no–It happened because I live my life driven by passion, so I just followed what I loved.
What do your parents think about what you do?
They’re super supportive and accept my fly-by-night nature. They’re not spontaneous like me, though. For example, during the protests in Cairo, I grabbed a flight to Dubai for the weekend just three weeks in advance. My Sudanese friends had been trying to get me to come, but I never felt “fancy” enough. But once they told me we’d go to Cairo, I was sold – I could totally justify a trip to the pyramids! I ended up traveling to Dubai, Qatar, and Egypt on a whim. It was the best trip of my life! And my parents would never do something like that. But they don’t stop me from being Rachel. I’m very blessed in that regard. I’m unique in my family, though. They’re more traditional. I didn’t grow up with artists or creatives.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to break into fitness or wellness or explore an “alternative” career?
You know, when I was at Juilliard, the one thing I told myself is “I don’t want to be jealous.” As a young person, it’s really important to work on that. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself or talking smack about other people. If I’d been so stuck on one opportunity, on being an actor, and compared myself to other people, I never would’ve gotten where I am now. So, love who you are and figure out who you are—because we don’t know who we are! We’re influenced by so many forces. Be open, be confident, be willing to try new things.
You have a great outlook. What helps you stay so positive?
When I was in a bad relationship, I was in therapy weekly. (Don’t be ashamed of going to therapy!) In therapy, I dealt with my insecurities from childhood. I was also lucky enough to work on acceptance. A great quote I heard in my first therapy session was, “You can do it all, but not all at once.” It’s so important to live by that, because we’re so prone to overfilling our plates. Say “no” to things. Unless you do, nothing is enjoyable because you’re stretched to capacity. You can be really busy, but if you’re happy with what you’re doing, it’s a different kind of tired. It’s not miserable—you’re just tired.
And as for roommates…
What was it like moving to New York?
I first came to New York for Juilliard at 18. I had nobody, so I had to grow up quickly. I’m from a city, so I’m not that naïve, but in New York, you have to figure it out! If you’re sick and alone, you have to eat. Then there’s shlepping groceries—you know, with the blood vessels in your arms popping, trekking up the stairs. We’re all superheroes here without wanting to be.
Any crazy roommate stories?
I had a roommate whose rent check bounced every time. She just paid bills when she felt like it.
Oh man. So, you’re in Harlem now – tell me about your apartment!
I’m so glad all my roommate drama is over now. I live with my boyfriend and my dog, Zia, and I love my apartment – it’s the top floor and very quiet. We have a doorman…sometimes. We’re not really sure when.
Ha. What do you love about your apartment?
I love coming home at the end of the day to cook and unwind. My kitchen is very open – there’s a countertop bar and we have three barstools, so if I’m entertaining, I have access to my company. I love that, since so many apartments have enclosed kitchens that get hot, especially in the summer. It’s like you’re cooking in a box! We’ve all been there.
What’s your “must-have” when it comes to NYC apartments?
I’m serious about safety. I’ve never lived more than a block away from the subway! I head to work at weird hours and it’s not worth risking anything.
Any tips for how to set up your home space?
For New Yorkers, it’s important to make your space your temple. Make a home.
One last question: what would you tell someone who’s considering striking out on their own here in NYC?
Being driven by passion is so fulfilling. The payoff comes from hard work, dedication, and passion. Sometimes the money is going to be tight, and that’s okay. If you care about what you’re doing and love the people you’re working with, life brings you opportunities.
Valerie Bisharat is a Food and Body Issues Specialist, wellness writer and entrepreneur who helps people live a healthy lifestyle without dieting or feeling guilty. You can read her words on Huffington Post, Wanderlust, and her blog. Valerie majored in Gender Studies at NYU, where her research explored the relationship between fitness magazines and body insecurities in the population. At any given time, you can find her clacking at her laptop in a cafe, perusing cute puppy pictures, or hanging out in downward dog.
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