In 2009, Kathryn Morgan, a young ballerina from Mobile, Alabama, was promoted to soloist within the New York City Ballet, which she had joined as an apprentice in 2006. She was hardly in the role for more than a seven months when she was diagnosed with an under-functioning thyroid, and found herself back in Alabama in 2012. However, she didn’t let her diagnosis get the best of her, continuing to dance with the company she grew up watching. Along with maintaining an active social media presence, Kathryn is currently preparing to make her debut with Ballet in the City, which will include the world premiere of her exclusive Red Shoes variation.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Kathryn via phone last month and talk to her about her career, her illness, and what’s next for the ballerina.
Laurel: We’ll start with you leaving the New York City Ballet in 2012 following some health issues. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing for you to go through, both mentally and physically. How difficult was it for you to come to terms with that break in your dancing career?
Kathryn: It was incredibly difficult. I was promoted to soloist in October 2009 and then I was diagnosed the following May; I was 20, I had just gotten this promotion, and I got diagnosed. I didn’t even really get to complete a year as a soloist without an illness. After a while struggling with it, I finally realized that trying to get on the stage and get well were not going to work together. It was a very, very difficult decision but, at the same time, it was the smartest decision. When I went in to talk to Peter [Martins, New York City Ballet’s Master in Chief], I said, “Look, this is not working for me. I really have to just focus on getting well, and then work on getting on stage.” He looked at me and said, “I knew you were smart.” Everybody knew it was the right decision, even though it was very hard. [Peter] even said that, if it was up to him, he’d just keep me around. But the way the payroll works, they couldn’t just keep paying me if I wasn’t there. It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one.
That’s what it sounds like. What have you been up to since leaving? I know you went back to Alabama, so tell me a little bit about what you’ve been doing, both to get well and to get back into the ballet game.
The first couple years I was down here, it was mainly about getting well. It was almost like, once the stress was off of there initially, I ended up getting worse because everything just kind of hit. The depression, the “I’m not dancing anymore,” so it took me quite a while to even feel mildly better. But the whole time I’ve left New York City Ballet, I actually have not stopped dancing.
There’s the original ballet company here that I grew up with, and I’ve danced many ballets with them. I did a full-length Swan Lake, I did The Nutcracker, I did a brand new world premiere of Snow White. I was literally sick as a dog when I left City Ballet, so they were kind enough to let me dance with them. While I haven’t been dancing with City Ballet, I haven’t stopped dancing, taking classes, and performing, just not on that level. That has kind of reawakened my love for dance. By the time I left City Ballet, I was sick and miserable; I didn’t want to even dance anymore. It has kind of reignited that passion back, on a much less pressure-filled scale.
About a year ago, I realized that I had started watching other people on YouTube, and realized there were really no dancers on YouTube. It occurred to me that I was not under contract with any company, and I could do this just of my own free will; if I had started a YouTube channel at New York City Ballet, they would have had to approve everything, make sure everything was to their standard, and this way, it was just me. I was also very passionate about sharing my knowledge with other dancers. I’m always about giving back, always about helping the younger dancers, because I think back to when I was that age. If a soloist with the New York City Ballet had a YouTube channel, I would have just eaten it up. I’m sort of catering to my thirteen year-old self. So I started my blog and YouTube about a year ago and it’s just grown a lot since then.
You can read Kathryn’s blog, If the Pointe Shoes Fits, here. A link to her YouTube channel is below.
Kathryn has two YouTube active YouTube channels: Kathryn Morgan: Ballet – Beauty – Lifestyle, which contains her makeup, workout, and costuming tips and tricks, and Life with Katie, a collection of vlogs that offers fans a glimpse into her daily life and inner thoughts.
What would you say has been the most rewarding experience of your career so far?
Well, I think probably several things. One was dancing Romeo and Juliet for the first time. I first danced that when I was 17. For [New York City Ballet] to trust me with such a big role, not even really a year into the company – I started at my apprenticeship in June 2006 and then I danced Juliet in February, I think – it was quite a lot. That was a big deal to me, being Juliet. Also, dancing Aurora for the first time in Sleeping Beauty, because that particular role is so hard. It’s one of those that everybody wants to do, but they also dread it, because if you do it, that means they really trust you as a dancer because it’s so hard. So that was a big highlight. And then, getting promoted to soloist. But last year, when I had just started the YouTube channel, there was quite a big New York Times article about me. It was such a big deal, and I wasn’t even quite well at that point, yet the New York Times bothered to do an article on me. Within that article, Peter said I was one of the greatest he’s ever seen. That was a true highlight. That was two years after I had left the company, and he still said that, so that was quite, quite an honor.
You can read the New York Times article, “Betrayed by Her Body, A Dancer Connects Online,” written by Gia Kourlas, here.
Kathryn Morgan as Juliet with Seth Orza, balletnews.co.uk
Let’s talk about your upcoming involvement with Ballet in the City. When you perform for us, you’ll be performing three variations: the Black Swan, the Kitri variation from Act I of Don Quixote, and then the Red Shoes variation that is going to be particular to you and Ballet in the City. I’ll ask you a little bit more about that one in a minute but, to start, why did you pick these three variations?
I’ve never danced Swan Lake with New York City Ballet, but I did dance it in Alabama, and I love it. It’s just such a complete variation. Sometimes, you see a variation and it’s about a minute, and that’s it. The Black Swan is so complete. Everybody also knows Black Swan nowadays, and I just really like that one. You can get a lot of personality out of it. The Kitri one is a crowd-pleaser; it’s really, really short, really, really fast. Because it’s just these short variations, I wanted something was going to be exciting, and something that the audience would really enjoy and not some sort of long variation.
And then the Red Shoes, what I’d like to do is have it not just about me dancing in red pointe shoes, but tell the whole story in five or 10 minutes. it’s not going to be me in pointe shoes, it’s going to show the story and the acting and the drama within five to six minutes.
How did the development for [the Red Shoes] come about? How did you decide to work on this variation?
Jessica [Wallis, Executive Director of Ballet in the City] mentioned it to me; she said they initially were going to incorporate something with red shoes for their 2015 Gala, but it fell through. Now, I have Bloch as my own sponsor and Bloch is very excited; they are going to make me a pair of red pointe shoes, so they’re getting to get involved with it by saying, “shoes supplied by Bloch.” Once Jessica told me this idea, I said, “That’s great, let’s do a brand new version, let’s do a world premiere that can premiere in Cleveland on that day.” And then we can take it to whatever cities we may go to. And, it’s exclusive to [Ballet in the City], it’s exclusive to me, so it just seemed like a good idea all-around.
Talking about moving Ballet in the City into its other cities, one of the other places this will be taken is into Detroit. Tell me about how excited you are to take this to different cities and why it’s important to you to spread ballet awareness, to expose new audiences to the art by traveling around to these different cities.
The thing I love about this is the way we set it up. The evening is not just about me dancing; it’s about me dancing and then I’m sharing my story. I’m all about inspiring dancers and being a role model to them. Nowadays, we don’t have enough, I think, true role models. I think we get a lot of the, sort of, trashy role models for young girls. I think that it’s really important for me to inspire young girls and show them that, yes, I can overcome things, so can you. That’s why I’m really excited about taking this around, because, again, it’s about them, as well as about me. It’s not just, “This is what I can do and hope you enjoy it!” I get to tell my story.
Talking about the Bloch shoes, I know this is a recent switch for you to be dancing in Bloch shoes. What led you to switch to Bloch instead of Freeds?
The main reason I ended up switching is because I was in the completely wrong size in Freed. And, not to put the blame on anybody, I was four sizes too narrow for me. I had so many problems with the shoe and I was never happy with Freeds. There are so many dancers who look amazing in Freeds. I was not one of them. I shopped around; I had always loved Bloch and I rediscovered them. In New York City Ballet, you have to wear Freeds; 99% of the dancers wear Freeds. There isn’t really any second thought about it. Once I discovered Bloch, I found some shoes that I loved and ended up telling Jessica I was at Bloch, and then she has Bloch as a sponsor, and once they found out I was in the shoes they were so excited. Now, we have this partnership that is lovely, and every single person I’ve talked to at Bloch is so nice, so helpful. It’s truly a special company; I’m so happy they fit.
Still from Kathryn’s YouTube video, “What’s in My Dance Bag“
When you’re in Cleveland, you’ll also be giving some Master Classes through Ballet in the City along with an event at a dance store with a pointe shoe demonstration, makeup demonstration, etc. Tell me about that angle of your visit and what you’re most excited about there.
I’ve always been obsessed with makeup from a very young age, so when Jessica gave me this suggestion to do a makeup lesson, I jumped at it. I do a lot of stage makeup tutorials on my YouTube and I was taught by Michael Avedon, who was, I believe, somehow related to the famous photographer Richard Avedon. When I first got into the company, he was the official makeup artist for New York City Ballet, and I would go to him every single night, whether I was on or not in the show, because I was fascinated. He taught me, step-by-step, how to shade and how to find your shade and about lighting and things. Ever since then, I have just so loved it. I do makeup tutorials on my YouTube, so she thought it would be a great idea for me to teach that in person, so that was phenomenal.
For the pointe shoe fitting and me dancing, again, it’s a great way for me to connect with young dancers on a more personal level, rather than just being that figure on the stage. When I was young, I went to see ABT in New York and waited at the stage door for a certain ballerina – not going to say her name – for a half an hour. I was desperate to get her autograph. When she finally came out, I said, “Can I get your autograph? You’re beautiful!” She just looked at me and said, “Buy it at the boutique,” and walked away. I have never forgotten that, never ever in my career have forgotten that. Every single time anybody wants to connect with me on a personal level or asks for my autograph, I jump at the chance. That made me never want to see that dancer ever again, like I never cared about watching her ever again, as good as she was. To me, it’s about being that nice figure to younger dancers and meeting them and connecting with them personally, rather than being that figure in the tiara on the stage.
What do you think is the most important message that you want to get across to young and aspiring dancers?
I always tell them, don’t compare your career path to anybody else’s. Everybody is going to have a different journey to get from Point A to Point B. When I first started out, I never would have seen my career going like this, me getting sick and stopping but then having this whole other outlet. You can’t compare your journey to anybody else because everybody’s path is different. Do what you do, love what you do, and just go with the flow. You can’t predict it, you can’t say, “Oh, because so-and-so did that I’m going to do that, too.” You just have to trust your own career.
Written by Laurel Wilder, blogger for Ballet in the City. You can also find Laurel’s work at, “Did The Tribe Win Last Night?” here.