Kathryn McCormick Talks Like Air and "SYTYCD"

We're not sure Kathryn McCormick ever sleeps. When the beautiful contemporary dancer (and November 2012 cover girl) isn't busy appearing as an All-Star on "So You Think You Can Dance"—where she just wrapped up a hugely successful season, partnered with 13-year-old wunderkind Tate McRae—she's taking on acting projects, teaching at DanceMakers Inc. or serving on the creative team for CLI Studios. Last year, she added a wedding to her jam-packed schedule, marrying producer (and former dancer) Jacob Patrick.

McCormick and her new husband have a passion project of their own: Like Air, a documentary following three of McCormick's young protégés as they prepare for DanceMakers Nationals. (It's available for download now on iTunes.) We spoke with her about the film, the "SYTYCD" whirlwind and why mentorship has become the through line in her career.

Dance Spirit: What inspired Like Air?

Kathryn McCormick: It all started with Doug Shaffer, the former owner of DanceMakers Inc. He's one of the most incredible mentors I've ever had, and he always said he wanted to help people see competitive dance in a positive light. There are a lot of reality shows, like "Dance Moms," which don't highlight dance in the greatest way; he wanted to show the beauty in it, rather than the negativity. When I'd been teaching on the convention for a couple of years, he asked me to be a part of a project—he wasn't sure what it was going to be, maybe a reality show, maybe a film—that would show competitive dancers' heart and passion. And then Jacob and I talked it out, and we came up with the idea of a really raw, organic documentary.

DS: How did you find the three dancers you followed?

KM: It was really Jacob and Jake, the film's director, and Brad Taylor, the current owner of DanceMakers, who did the scouting. The three girls they chose—Montserrat, Alyssa and Kayla—we had no idea how they were going to place. But we knew that they had very different backgrounds, very different stories, and that's what we wanted. In hindsight, I feel like the girls chose us, rather than us choosing them!

DS: This is your first time working with your husband. How did you operate as a team?

KM: I'm a dancer and he has a production company, but we have a similar heart mission. It was a beautiful bonding time for us, to be able to work together on this project. We watched these girls learn how to love themselves for who they are rather than what they can do. We'll always be able to look back at this film and know that it represents everything we stand for.

McCormick in a still from Like Air (courtesy Sundari PR)

DS: There are definitely parallels between Like Air and the mentoring work you did on this season of "SYT." Did the film affect the way you approached the show?

KM: I think my whole career, I've been falling in love with mentorship—with those moments when I can look a child in the eye and say something that makes her feel important and worthy. So when I heard about "SYTYCD: The Next Generation" as an opportunity to mentor kids, I was all in from the start.

DS: You and Tate had an amazing partnership. What makes her special?

KM: She was someone that my mentors were telling me about early on. A lot of people were rooting for her before I even met her! Her talent is so obvious—golly, she's incredible at what she does. But the moment my heart was sold on her was when I got to interview her. Hearing that her greatest goals are to be humble and kind and to make people feel something—that she wanted to be on the show not to win, but to learn—I knew, then, that I wanted to tell stories with her.

McCormick and Tate in "This Gift," choreographed by Stacey Tookey, on "SYTYCD" (photo Patrick Wymore/FOX)

DS: You two must be very close now. Do you have plans to work together in the future?

KM: We definitely want to. Geographically, we're far apart—she lives in Canada—but we have many of the same mentors, like Stacey Tookey, so there's a good chance we'll work together again. And we'll be friends forever. Since the show, we've been in constant communication. I'll get little videos from her, like, "Just doing my homework and wanted to say hi!"

DS: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

KM: I'll be teaching on DanceMakers again this year, and I'm also co-director of their company, The Collective. I have a new project with CLI Studios coming up, too—live interactive classes. All of it ties into the same philosophy: the idea of mentorship, of helping dancers work through their insecurities and find their voices so they can love themselves.

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