Posted by Rebecca King on 09.09.2014
Through TENDUS’ series “Dancer’s Career Transition” my readers have seen numerous stories of past and present dancers chasing new dreams, finding that these individuals are all extremely successful at whatever they put their mind to. Meet Singer/Songwriter Rachael Sage who grew up training at The School of American Ballet and has now become a well known soulful vocalist and innovative multi-instrumentalist. She says that ballet helped her along this journey: “ballet gave me the ability to hyperfocus which is really crucial to any creative process.” Last week she appeared on the super popular, “Dance Moms” where she debuted her new song, “Happiness” which she wrote for dancer Maddie Ziegler.
I spoke with Rachael about career, ballet, changing focuses, and discovering her work on reality TV.
Rebecca King: Tell us a little bit about your dance background.
Rachael Sage: I started in a pre-ballet class as well as gymnastics at two or three years old, and became more and more serious with my dance studies, eventually choosing ballet when I was required to commit more fully to one over the other – but I really did love both! By my pre-teens, i was dancing in children’s roles with New York City Ballet at their summer home at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in ballets such as “Celebration” and “Circus Polka”; that lead naturally to me attending the summer program at The School Of American Ballet for two years, and then by seventh grade I was a full time student at S.A.B. I danced there for several hours a day, every day of the week but Sunday, until I went to college and appeared in children’s roles with The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center in “The Nutcracker”, “Coppelia”, “Mozartiana”, and “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Those were some of the most inspiring years of my life…
RK: How did you transition into the world of singing/songwriting?
RS: I have been writing pop music since I was a little girl, and played piano all throughout my childhood; so it wasn’t exactly a transition. I learned a lot of my musical vocabulary by playing classical music by ear, from my dance classes – but also from Top 40 Radio, folk music, The Beatles and Broadway shows my parents exposed me to, and various other contemporary artists I heard whether at camp or school. I was always “the ballet student who also composed music” and eventually, I began producing my own demos on a four track, playing talent shows in grammar school and then high school, and developing my voice the more opportunities I had to perform. I would say I knew I wanted to be a recording artist as early as junior high school, was constantly projecting into the future whenever I saw any pop artists performing on television or listened to the radio – imagining someday that would be me – and it just grew from there. So, my musical style may have shifted through the years and become more focused on lyrical content, live instrumentation versus electronic etc., but that drive I always had since I played Billy Joel for my friends at 5 at Camp Mataponi was always there! Music has always been my best friend.
RK: How do you feel that your ballet training has influenced your singing career?
RS: I think ballet gave me the ability to hyperfocus which is really crucial to any creative process. It endowed me with a respect for the most minute details, and a reverence for melody via the incredible classical composers to which I was perpetually exposed. It also gave me a sense of structure and a feel for telling a story and creating tension in the most basic sense, whether via a series of emotions – i.e. the Balanchine “leotard” ballets – or a more literal, linear context such as “The Nutcracker” or “Coppelia”. I think it also helped me learn to convey character, as an actress – another one of my creative passions. Also, it developed my sense of dynamics, both visually and musically. I suppose it also taught me most of what I know about being a soloist versus a member of an ensemble; and the conservatory experience certainly showed me the virtues of both confidence and humility, as a lifelong student of the arts. I think that has enabled me to navigate the music business with a healthy attitude, a sense of playfulness, and avoid burnout even when I’ve experienced a great deal of rejection. The bottom line is it taught me that very hard work yields results, and laziness won’t get you very far!
RK: How did this partnership with “Dance Moms” come about? What has surprised you the most as you get to know the show?
RS: I was very surprised to learn that Dance Moms would be using my music, for this past season, because I know so little, still, about Reality TV, or television in general. Essentially what I’ve learned since my first song aired on Dance Moms in January 2014 is that Abby Lee Miller had already used several of my songs for over a decade, in dance competitions; when I finally made direct contact with her – I emailed her to thank her for using my music in the Spring and she responded immediately – she revealed that she had choreographed an award-winning routine to my song “Frost” a decade ago, which was so wonderful to discover. It was my good luck that someone who was already using my work in her choreography ended up with her own reality show, and just kept using more and more – it was a pretty surreal situation and every subsequent placement on the show came as a complete surprise, usually leaked on YouTube shortly before it aired or otherwise we would’t find out until the dances aired in each episode.
RK: What’s next for you?
RS: Well, my new album “Blue Roses” is going to come out this Fall, and then I’ll be touring with my band The Sequins all over the U.S. and Europe, for the rest of the year. I’m always writing new songs, along my tours, so listeners can expect to hear a mix of new material, as well as songs from all of my past albums. I’m so excited to hit the road behind the new record – I love performing live so much, and every show is different and gives me a chance to connect with all kinds of people and diverse communities, which is such a an excitingl way to see the world!
I’ll also be releasing a video for my brand new song “Wax” (airing on “Dance Moms” in September), which I just shot this past week in Los Angeles. We’ll be editing it over the next couple weeks, and I can’t wait to share it – it was such a fun shoot in a very unusual art gallery filled with the wildest artwork I’ve ever seen.