How Bonner Black Went from Classically Trained Ballerina to Singer with New Song 'Light Me Up'

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Bonner Black grew up on a farm 90 minutes outside of Nashville and was a distinguished member of a prestigious ballet company, dreaming of a music career that seemed a lifetime away.

But here she is.

"My whole life was ballet, but I was always writing little songs on the side," Black tells PEOPLE. "I always knew I could sing, but it wasn't until I took my first guitar lesson when I was 12 that I started putting those songs to music. That's when I caught that songwriting bug."

At 12 years old, Black begged her parents to drive her to Nashville for a vocal lesson that soon turned into a meeting with Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Soon after, they started making many trips to Music City.

"I was missing ballet classes and rehearsals to come to Nashville and play music," she remembers. "My artistic director told me that I needed to make a choice, but that choice was sort of crazy considering I was just a junior in high school at that point."

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Bonner Black
Bonner Black

Chase Hentges Bonner Black

On first impression, executives up and down Music Row tended to place Black into a country-pop, sort of Taylor Swift box. But ultimately, Black has found a much cozier home within a more rootsy yet still addictive form of music, a sound one can hear in her single "Light Me Up," exclusively premiering on PEOPLE. Conjuring up a sort of retro-Kacey Musgraves feel with a song that touches on the idea of finding affection when you need it, "Light Me Up" also conjures up a memory of a past love for Black.

"I was really young when I met him," she says of the man she now describes as a 'great friend.' "I went and danced in New York for a summer when I was 19 years old, and he was an exchange student from Paris, and he was just so fancy."

She adds, "I was so, so, so in love with him, but we were kind of on and off for years. It was super romantic. We were the couple sitting outside drinking wine and things like that, but I could never understand why I couldn't lock him down and make him my boyfriend."

Eventually, he moved back to Paris and Black was 'completely broken up" over it. Nevertheless, it took years for Black to write a song that touches on the fire that he once brought to her life.

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"It takes a human mind and a human heart a long time to process things," says Black, who ended up writing "Light Me Up" this past January on 'one of the shortest days of 2020 in my bedroom in East Nashville. "I think sometimes the longer you step away from something, the easier it is for you to process it."

Black is currently single and back in the dating world.

"It's an interesting world," she says with a chuckle. "A lot of times, when you have someone come over or you're not in a relationship, you're kind of seeking fake, pretend love. You're not saying, come over and 'love' me. What you're saying is come over and turn me on for a minute."

Bonner Black
Bonner Black

Chase Hentges Bonner Black

It's a rather raw thought from a former ballet dancer, but an honest take from a twenty-something woman trying to find her way past the man she can't seem to forget.

"I've never wanted to admit it, but I really did love him," she says. "I tried to act like it was some sort of happy infatuation…"

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Her voice begins to trail off.

"But things happen the way they are supposed to," she says quietly. "That was life and that was my experience, and it was beautiful when it was amazing."

Bonner Black
Bonner Black

Chase Hentges Bonner Black

And yes, that's how she now looks at the life she once spent in ballet shoes.

"Anytime I watch dancers, I feel my whole body tense up immediately because I just love it so much," she says. "But when you're dancing, a lot of times you're performing someone else's choreography and you're performing to someone else's song and wearing someone else's costume."

She adds, "But now, I'm telling my own story with my own music, and that feels so very good right now."

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