She's something of a celebrity now. But on the convention floor, Tate McRae never lets the flash of cameras distract her from the choreographer's instruction, from exploring each movement with intention and integrity. While the 13-year-old comp queen—and ballet dancer, and singer-songwriter, and actor, and model—welcomes the recognition and opportunities that have come her way since earning second runner-up on "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" last year, she doesn't let fame go to her head. "I try never to lose sight of how dance makes me feel," she says. "Ultimately, it's passion and hard work that make each new opportunity so rewarding."
America's Favorite Canadian
Tate not only braved the "SYT" stage as a preteen—she was also competing for the America's Favorite Dancer title as a non-American. She hails from Calgary, Canada, and while her hometown friends and family could follow her journey on television, they couldn't vote, which makes Tate's third-place finish all the more impressive.
But "SYT" was so much more than a competition for Tate. "It helped me break out of my shell," she says. "It taught me not to be such a perfectionist." Tate carried that fearlessness beyond the show, and now approaches each class with newfound confidence. Stacey Tookey, who first met Tate at a convention three years before "SYTYCD," noticed the transformation. "She really treated the show as a challenge to dig into a new level of performance artistry," Tookey says.
Perhaps Tate's greatest takeaway from the show was her inseparable bond with her All-Star mentor, Kathryn McCormick. McCormick remembers realizing she needed to work with Tate on the last day of auditions. "Tate told me her goal was to be humble and kind, and to make people feel something," she says. "I was completely captivated by her in that moment, and felt we needed to be in each other's lives for reasons way beyond the show."
Knowing that Tate was already an exceptional technician, McCormick set out to help her realize the potency of her voice. "I wanted to reveal to Tate how powerful and perfect her soul is," she says. Magic happened when the pair teamed up with choreographer Travis Wall to learn She Used to Be Mine. Telling the story of a mom who leaves her daughter, the piece challenged Tate to tap into emotions she'd never personally experienced. "There was a moment when I had to scream at the top of my lungs, and we practiced it over and over," Tate says. "Travis kept shouting 'Give me more!' and 'What are you feeling?' and when I finally put myself in that position, we all started bawling. It was a beautiful mess!"
The Weekly Grind
"SYT" may have been a whirlwind experience for Tate, but the dancer's current day-to-day life is crazy in its own right. As a student in The School of Alberta Ballet's professional training division, she spends every morning polishing her technique with four hours of ballet class. "Tate is a very detailed worker," says Alberta Ballet's Ashley McNeil. "From a young age, she's been able to pick up small nuances quickly, and to repeat each movement with integrity and thought." Following ballet class, she has a quick lunch break before an afternoon of academics. Then, through Alberta Ballet's partnership with YYC Dance Project—a competition team led by Tate's mom, Tanja Rosner—Tate spends her evenings training in contemporary, tap, hip hop and jazz.
Weekends are reserved for conventions and competitions, both commercial and ballet. Tate hits an impressive circuit: The Dance Awards, JUMP, NUVO, Radix, 24/7, Tookey's Camp Protégé and Youth America Grand Prix. "I've won Mini and Junior Best Dancer at The Dance Awards, and silver as a soloist and bronze in pas de deux at YAGP, so there's a whole new pressure to impress," she says.
To Broadway and Beyond
Tate has welcomed new professional dance opportunities since graduating from the "SYT" stage. Her relationship with McCormick has opened many doors, including a trip to perform and assist at the Victorian Dance Festival in Melbourne, Australia. And she secured a spot in this spring's prestigious Gala de Danza in Cabo, Mexico, where she'll perform with professional dancers from all over the world.
With the help of a new manager, Tate has also been exploring acting opportunities, which means getting to know the L.A. audition scene. In fact, she's now a quintuple threat: She devotes additional time to singing and songwriting, and to modeling for Miss Behave Girls and as a Capezio Athlete.
As for the future, Tate's keeping her options open. She can imagine herself joining a contemporary company, like Shaping Sound, or auditioning for Broadway, TV shows, or movies. "I keep my grades up, and try to excel at everything I do," she says. "That way, I'll be prepared for whatever path opens up to me."
"Tate is on the fast track to fame, but she manages to stay so grounded through it all," Tookey says. "Notoriety is one thing, but the ability to leave behind a trail of kindness and authenticity—that's what makes Tate a beautiful dancer and human being."
Favorite day of the week: Friday. "It usually means I get to travel."
Favorite movies: Nerve, The Maze Runner series, The Hunger Games. "I like action-packed movies that keep me on the edge of my seat."
Dream gig: Performing with Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift
Favorite Instagram filter: "It depends on the lighting, but probably Mayfair at, like, 50 percent."
Favorite ballet exercises: Adagio and pirouettes
Spirit animal: A unicorn
Dream role on Broadway: "It used to be Matilda from Matilda: The Musical, but I'm way too tall for that now!"
Favorite book: The Gone series
Favorite dance shoes: Bare feet. "Pointe shoes are beautiful, but they hurt!"
Favorite dance companies: Shaping Sound, Still Motion and Nederlands Dans Theater
Mentor Most Likely To....
What do you ask the dancer who's worked with everybody? Tate offers an insider's look at some of the dance world's most brilliant minds.
Goofiest mentor: Jason Parsons. "He's so hilarious, you don't even know!"
Mentor most likely to be a philosopher in disguise: Lara VanBelleghen, YYC Dance Project's technique specialist. "She always comes up with the craziest descriptions in technique class, but they work! She's a genius."
Sweetest mentor: "It's a tie between Kathryn McCormick and Stacey Tookey."
Mentors most likely to push her outside of her comfort zone: "Travis Wall and my mom always seem to get something extra out of me."
A version of this story appeared in the April 2016 issue of Dance Spirit.