Why I Dance: Steven McRae

July 31, 2015

Principal dancer with The Royal Ballet

Adrenaline junkie: Steven McRae in David Dawson’s The Human Seasons. Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy ROH.

The first time I experienced a true sense of freedom was in my first dance lesson: I was 7 years old, and my jazz teacher told me to spin as fast as I could, fly as high as possible and simply “have a go.”

My family’s motorsport roots—my dad was a drag racer—make it no surprise that I have a love for adrenaline. The element of fear and the need to act quickly on the spur of the moment are part of what I adore about performing. No matter how prepared you are, when that curtain goes up, anything is possible.

Dancers are humans striving for a perfection that doesn’t exist. So it is inevitable that not every moment of a dancer’s life is pure bliss. Tearing my Achilles was by no means fun. But during my year off the stage, I learned more about myself and the profession by having the chance to observe everything from a distance. My burning need to be perfect disappeared—but my love for the stage grew deeper. For me, a successful show is when I can step onstage and lose myself in the role and the performance. Unfortunately, these moments are quite rare. But finding and acknowledging them makes me want to work harder each day.

My life in the dance world has brought me hardship and sacrifices. It has also given me a life I could never have dreamed of: I have traveled the world; I have stepped onstage with many of the world’s leading ballerinas; I have performed for royalty; I was lucky enough to meet my beautiful wife; and I am now the father to our beautiful little girl, Audrey Bluebell.

In order to have pursued this career so far, there has had to be quite a large element of selfishness involved. Years of looking in the mirror, trying to better myself, push myself, it’s all been about me, me, me. But my focus has changed. I now perform for my little girl in the hope that I will inspire her to pursue her dreams. Because of this, my performances now feel truly alive. I am loving what I do more and more every day.