Finding Her Center

Writer Amanda Christmann
Photograph Courtesy of Phoenix Youth Ballet Theatre

In the art of ballet, it is not the lithe bodies, the graceful form or even the fluid, athletic concert of movement that are most important to master. Though all are part of the final performance, before a dancer can begin to master choreography, he or she needs to first find their center.

Poised and confident, Kathryn Morgan faces sideways, her slippered feet parallel to a mirrored wall. Her muscled thighs are engaged, her weight on the balls of her feet. Her abdomen is tucked above her hips. Her spine is straight and her shoulders relaxed, her arms purposefully hung low with fingertips touching. With a slightly lifted chin, a calm strength appears on her face.

This position is the foundation for a dancer to establish balance. As music and movement begin, every plié and relevé requires a symmetric counterbalance.

For Morgan, “finding center” has been just as important in her illustrious yet challenged ballet career as it has been a metaphor for her life.

Formerly a New York City Ballet soloist, Morgan was a child prodigy. She began studying ballet at the age of three in Mobile, Alabama under the tutelage of Winthrop Corey, a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

By 2004, at the age of 16, she danced her way into New York’s School of American Ballet. Two years later, she joined New York City Ballet as an apprentice, and less than a year later, became a member of the corps de ballet for the company.

Hard work and natural talent continued to keep Morgan light on her feet, and with each split leap and grand jeté, she rose among the competition. By 2009, she was a soloist—the best of the best.

As hard as she worked, Morgan began to notice that something was amiss. Her constant workouts had kept her ballerina-slim, but inexplicably, she began to gain weight. Before long, her hard-earned muscle mass began to disappear, too, and her once boundless energy seemed to disappear.

Diagnosis of a thyroid disorder, most likely caused by autoimmune disease, confirmed the worst: in order to heal, Morgan would need to step back from her budding career.

A New Direction

Morgan left the company in 2012 and was tasked not only with caring for her health, but with rebuilding a life without the daily routines and sense of purpose she’d had her entire life.

She didn’t miss a beat. Born to be a performer, Morgan developed her own personal brand based on what she knew best.

She started a YouTube channel, now with nearly 150,000 followers, to talk tips on everything from ballet moves to beauty tips to healthy living.

She launched a podcast, “The Kathryn Morgan Show,” and began writing a column for Dance Spirit magazine; She also launched a scholarship program, a clothing line, and Kathryn Morgan Haul, a monthly subscription box of dance supplies and products.

That wasn’t all. She began a public speaking career, and became a judge and master teacher for the Youth America Grand PrixBallet Competition.

Coming to Phoenix

Through it all, the crux of Morgan’s mission has been to support up-and-coming dancers. It’s only natural, then, that she would end up in Phoenix supporting another organization with the same goal.

Phoenix Youth Ballet Theatre (PYBT) is a 501(c)3 non-profit formed to provide dance, music and art education to young Valley dancers. Almost 100 dancers from ages 3-18 are involved in the group’s annual Nutcracker Suite and spring ballet productions, and their ballet scholarship program provides performance and training opportunities young performers may otherwise not have.

Phoenix area students involved in PYBT learn to challenge themselves and each other through their classes at Legacy Ballet Academy. They also receive mentorship and training through guest artists from prestigious companies like American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Ballet West. 

Like Morgan, many local dancers aspire to take bigger leaps. PYBT dancers have been accepted to collegiate ballet programs and national and international summer programs, a stepping stone to future success, including Alvin Ailey, Alonzo King LINES University of Arizona Dance Department, Indiana University, Jacob’s School of Music, Houston Ballet, Ballet West, Grand Rapids Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and The Rock School.  

March 16, Morgan will be performing at PBYT’s upcoming Raising the Barre Gala, the biggest fundraiser of the year. She will dance excerpts from “Romeo and Juliet” and Act 2 from “Giselle,” with PYBT students dancing the corps de ballet.

She’ll also be partnering with Ballet Met’s Sean Rollofson for a performance that will feature group and solo dances from PYBT students.

Morgan will also be holding two master classes for students 8 years and older March 17 at Legacy Ballet Academy, formerly Arizona Dance Artistry.

Act Three

For Morgan, this rewarding work is no curtain call. Following her divorce last year, she found herself back in the ballet studio, reclaiming her body. Both physically and mentally, she’s back on track and ready for her next act.

At the age of 31, she’s ready to join another ballet company, not as an instructor or mentor, but as a dancer.

Morgan is ready to take the stage, one graceful step at a time, now that she’s once again found her center.

Raising the Barre Gala
Saturday, March 16 | 5 p.m. | Madison Center for the Arts, 5601 N. 16th St., Phoenix | $35–$75 | $50 for gala dinner |

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