"SYTYCD" Was Just the Beginning for Tate McRae
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.
Photo by Erin Baiano
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!"
Photos by Erin Baiano
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.
Photo by Erin Baiano
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."
Photo by Erin Baiano
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.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.
When watching Megan Skalla dance, several things are immediately obvious. She has legs for days and the archy feet to match. Her core is rock-solid, and her sweet smile is contagious. But the longer you spend with her, the more something else becomes clear: Megan’s got sass. Whether it’s a sharp shoulder roll during a hip-hop class or an intense stare during a sky-high développé, there’s a certain something extra that makes this 16-year-old pop. And her steadfast devotion to dance means she’s only getting better.
Megan started dancing when she was 3 at a small ballet studio near her hometown of Draper, UT, and was hooked immediately. At 7, she switched to a new studio, Pulse 31, and started to compete, but she still wasn’t dancing as much as she wanted. Finally, she came to The Dance Club in Orem, where she currently trains. She takes ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, contemporary and lyrical, and sometimes supplements her training with private ballet classes at nearby Barlow Arts Conservatory. “I’ve always loved ballet,” says Megan, who has attended summer intensives at Pacific Northwest Ballet School on scholarship for the past two years. “It’s the foundation for everything, and it makes me a stronger dancer in other genres.”
Though she dances from morning until night, Megan admits to boogying through her kitchen when she gets home, and would still do more if she could. “There’s a dance company that’s a big deal at my high school, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do both,” she says. Devoting her time to The Dance Club, she says, is more conducive to her goal of dancing professionally. The studio is full of mega-talented dancers, and Megan shines among them. Her secret? “In class, some dancers will avoid going across the floor with someone they think is better than they are,” she says. “But I like to go across the floor with the best dancer in class. That way, I can push myself to come up to her level.”
Megan’s strategy is working. She won the Teen High Score Solo award at New York City Dance Alliance regionals and was a Top 10 Outstanding Dancer finalist at NYCDA Nationals. She has performed as Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and was one of four Capezio NYCDA Model Search winners. As for the future, Megan knows one thing for sure: She’s going to keep dancing. “I want to go to college for dance, maybe to Brigham Young University, Marymount Manhattan or Juilliard,” she says. “But I still have a while to decide.” Until then, she’ll stick to her busy schedule. “It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings,” she says. “But it’s worth it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
Birthday: March 6, 1996
Favorite food: Pasta
Most-played on her iPod: “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz
Dream dance role: “It would be really fun to be a Rockette. I want to do the Rockette summer intensive this year.”
Three words that describe her dancing: “Soft, passionate, aggressive”
Dream dance company: Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Favorite dance movie: Step Up
Who would play her in a movie: Nina Dobrev from “The Vampire Diaries”
First thing she does in the morning: “Hit the snooze button so I can sleep for 10 more minutes.”
Favorite dancers of all time: Travis Wall and Joey Dowling
Hidden talent: “I like to sing, but I’m only OK. I’d like to take voice lessons.”
Performer she’d die to work with: Celine Dion
Must-see TV shows: “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Lying Game”
Allison Thornton, Megan’s teacher at The Dance Club: “Megan has the body that every dancer dreams of: long legs, beautiful feet, great extension. But the best thing about Megan is that she knows how to use it all. She works really hard, and as good as she is in rehearsal, she’s even better onstage. Megan is very humble. She always has a smile on her face, she gets along with the other girls and she’s easy to work with. She’s a good person who has been blessed with great talent.”
Joanna Numata, street jazz instructor at Broadway Dance Center: “The first thing I noticed about Megan were her beautiful lines. She also had a really good, positive energy during class. She took direction and corrections well, which is so important.”
It's in Odette's gracefully arched neck, the Lilac Fairy's regal bearing, even a contemporary dancer's extreme lines. The "it" in question? Épaulement—the nuanced positioning of the head, shoulders, and neck. Using your épaulement (which translates, literally, as "shouldering") does more than make your dancing prettier: It makes it better, richer, and more artistic. But achieving effortless épaulement is easier said than done, especially since technique classes tend to focus on the legs and feet.
Paige Fraser has performed on world-class stages and in a video with Beyoncé—yet some of her most meaningful dance moments happened in tiny classrooms on a small island 1,000 miles from America. This past spring, Fraser, who's danced with Ailey II and is a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, teamed up with the non-profit Milk Carton on a String to bring dance to underprivileged children in Haiti. Fraser taught daily ballet and modern dance classes and used YouTube videos and social media to introduce the students to other aspects of dance they hadn't been exposed to.
Now, Fraser plans to continue to use dance to give back through her own newly-funded non-profit, The Paige Fraser Foundation. But instead of traveling outside the country, Fraser will be helping kids in her childhood home: the Bronx. She wants her foundation to assist aspiring dancers no matter their color or abilities.
Read our interview with the dancer and do-gooder—and discover the life-changing diagnosis that inspired her to help other dancers achieve their dreams.
DancerPalooza, America's Largest Dance Festival, is moving to sunny SAN DIEGO, California from July 24-29, 2018.
Check out all of the NEW Intensives DancerPalooza has to offer this year!
You can never go wrong with a classic black leotard. Discount Dance's long-sleeve mesh leo will add a sleek edge to your studio style. Pair it with tights and a skirt for ballet class, or layer some leggings and sweats for contemporary class. Enter below for your chance to win it!
Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC's World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper's incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today's other incredible tappers? He isn't afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.
Last night was both the best and the worst night of "Dancing with the Stars: Athletes." The best, because one lean, mean, dancing machine of a couple got to take home the Mirrorball trophy. The worst, because we won't be able to tune in to "DWTS" each Monday to get our weekly dose of dance mania until the fall. But all good things must come to an end, and "DWTS: Athletes" was certainly one of the best seasons yet. The remaining three couples all brought their A-games to the dance floor for the finale, showcasing two dances: a traditional ballroom routine and a freestyle. Here's the final recap.