Kathryn McCormick is teaching young dancers to believe in themselves.
Posted in , Sep 16, 2016
You might recognize Kathryn McCormick from Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, a popular reality dance competition where up-and-coming dancers compete weekly for the chance to win a cash prize. McCormick was the show’s Season 6 runner up and has returned to the series every year as one of the show’s all-stars.
To watch McCormick perform her signature contemporary dances, full of heart and storytelling that have made her so popular on the show, is to see a person who’s truly found their purpose in life. This season on the show, she's expanding her purpose to mentoring the next generation of talent – something that’s become even more important to McCormick than performing on stage each week.
“I was so drawn to this season because it felt like it had so much purpose,” McCormick tells Guideposts.org of her role mentoring 13-year-old Tate McRae on the show. “To be able to have someone like Tate [as a mentee], I’m always reminded of what’s important. I see so much of my younger self in her. I want to help her find freedom in what she’s doing.”
McCormick began her career in dance early; in fact, she might have been dancing before she could even walk. Her mother owned a studio and taught classes every week, often bringing McCormick and her older sister along.
“My mom was very involved in my dancing but she made sure that I never danced just because she did. She made sure I loved the art form. She never pushed me into it,” she says.
When McCormick was just ten years old, she auditioned for a spot in a competitive company, one that traveled and performed at festivals and different competitions around the country. She didn’t make the cut.
“That was the moment when I was like, ‘Do I want to keep doing this?’" McCormick recalls. “I was just so shy and so nervous.”
She took a year off from dance, quickly realized she missed it and auditioned again for the same company a year later with better results. She started traveling with her dance team, meeting dancers her own age from different cities across the U.S. She was inspired by the talent she saw and felt challenged to continue in the sport, despite her insecurities.
“I feel like I’ve always battled that feeling of shyness and insecurity, not really wanting to let people see me and not feeling like I’m enough,” she says. “But I think dance has been the space that’s really opened me up and taught me to be proud of what I have to offer.”
When McCormick was just 18 years old, she booked a job in the upcoming remake of Fame. The three-month gig would mean she’d have to pick up her life in Georgia and move out to L.A. Her family supported her dream, helping her financially.
A few days later, McCormick got the call that the film had booked too many dancers. What was supposed to be a starring dance role with a three month contract was now a background spot that only required her to work one day on set.
She could’ve easily moved back home, disheartened by the missed opportunity, but instead, McCormick began to really work for her dream, auditioning and taking classes whenever she could.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here but I don’t think God would’ve placed me in this space if I weren’t intended to be here.”
When she made it onto SYTYCD that same year, McCormick knew she had made the right decision.
“[The show] has given me a stage to meet people and help others get past their own fears and barriers,” McCormick says. “It helped me to let go of myself and put my energy into serving other people.”
That giving spirit is on full display in the dance documentary Like Air that McCormick appears in. The film follows three young dancers within the Dancemaker's Convention and competition program where she's teaching. The dancers are all fighting for the convention’s top dancing honor.
“It’s about competition and I don’t think art was ever meant to be that,” McCormick says of the current dance climate shown in the film. “I think it was meant to inspire and teach people.”
She hopes the movie’s message can reach everyone, not just those in the sport.
“It’s just a reminder [for everyone] to redefine success. Success has nothing to do with how popular you are or how many awards or affirmations you receive. Success is based on what you carry in your heart and in your mind,” McCormick says.
As a teacher, McCormick deals with students who face their own insecurities, like she once did.
“I try to constantly remind the kids I teach, instead of thinking, ‘Everybody’s looking at me. What are they going to think?’ I try to shift it for them into, ‘I’m looking at everybody. What am I going to say?’ If you shift perspective and remember that’s your moment to give a gift, you feel like what you’re doing is bigger than yourself. That’s when you’re living in your purpose,” McCormick says.
She’s also working to help parents understand how important dance and the arts are in a child’s life.
McCormick says she often has one-on-one conversations with parents who worry their child is too invested in dance – something they see as a fun hobby but not a lifelong career.
“I understand the fear, but if you don’t allow your child to really try something, how do you know if they’ll ever be truly happy in what they’re doing?” McCormick says. “And the people saying, ‘No,’ they need to look at themselves and ask, “Am I truly happy? As a parent, are you truly happy in what you’re doing because if you’re not, you’re paving that way of life for your child. Just because your career makes more money or seems more ‘responsible,’ is your soul happy? That’s a big question to ask yourself.”
McCormick hopes her dancing can inspire others to pursue their own dreams and that her legacy is one of authenticity and purpose.
“I just want to make a mark,” McCormick says. “I want to leave a legacy that when people say my name, they feel something.”