Kathryn Morgan’s Journey


Kathryn Morgan became a soloist at the New York City Ballet in 2009. (Courtesy of Facebook)

At just 17, Kathryn Morgan made a name for herself through her apprenticeship at the New York City Ballet. She quickly earned a solo as Juliet in the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” and rose through the ranks, becoming a member of the company’s corps de ballet in 2007 and a soloist in 2009. In 2010, Morgan faced serious health issues that ultimately forced her to leave the NYCB in 2012. Her illness caused extreme fatigue, hair and muscle loss, weight gain and depression. She painfully describes the heartbreaking feeling of getting up on pointe only to come back down again because her muscles couldn’t handle it anymore. After years of frustrating doctor visits, Morgan was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune illness that attacks the thyroid.

Having lost her creative space and fighting to cope with physical and mental symptoms, Morgan sought a new outlet. She found it on YouTube, where she saw a lack of professional dancers. She started with stage-makeup tutorials, and her channel grew into an advice platform for dancers where she bravely shared personal stories.

“The thing I try to do with my videos is not only cater to my younger self, the young bunhead in me, but also to anyone who’s gone through a hard time, who doesn’t believe in themselves, who has been told they are a failure — because that all happened to me,” Morgan said in an interview with Dance Magazine.

Morgan’s mission grew continuously, expanding into an advice column for Dance Spirit and teaching opportunities, and with it came a new surge of inspiration. In 2018, she began to retake classes and train. She was invited to audition for the Miami City Ballet. Even after nearly a decade off the stage, she was asked to become a soloist. Excited by this second chance at a professional ballet career, Morgan found herself appreciating the experience far more compared to the perfectionism she was hyper-focused on during her time at the NYCB. She was loved not only by every audience but by artistic directors as well, praising her persistent desire to learn and improve and the way she seemed to fit in perfectly, supporting her colleagues and working the whole way tirelessly.

Unfortunately, however, the Miami City Ballet did not end up being the fairytale ending we all wanted for Kathryn Morgan. In a recent YouTube video, she opens up about why she had to leave. She expresses that the focus on what other people thought, a common priority amongst the dance community, was once again creeping into her head. This led her to fixate on body image, trapping her back into the mentality she fought so hard to escape. The dance industry’s impossible body standards weighed heavily on Morgan. She describes the internal conflict she felt between the need to fit into that box and the reality that it was not achievable for anyone, let alone someone with her condition. During Nutcracker rehearsals, she restricted food intake and harmed her body to the point of having to miss weeks just to try to fit that image.

These experiences and many others in which Morgan was unfairly benched from performances led her to realize that the Miami City Ballet was not the right place for her. She was not valued because she did not fit the mold the directors were seeking. The harm this was causing Morgan was clear: Not only was she not feeling well mentally, but a doctor’s visit revealed that her numbers were the worst they had been in eight years. In her YouTube video, Morgan expressed the moment she finally realized she was done: “No role or contract or title is worth the mental strain I’m currently under.”

But Morgan’s video is in no way a pity party or an invitation to bash the Miami City Ballet or the dance industry. Instead, she openly and courageously shares her experiences to teach current dancers the importance of prioritizing their health. Morgan reminds them, “I don’t want any of you to be an unhappy dancer because the whole point of what we do is because it brings us joy, that’s why you work so hard, that’s why you give your life to this.” A simple, fundamental message, yet one that is so often forgotten as careers take off.

In emphasizing a refusal to compromise your mental or physical health, Morgan is reaching dancers everywhere who don’t yet see how crucial that is. Even if you are not a part of the dance community, you should listen to what she has to say. Many sports and professions demand our bodies and minds to work endlessly in hopes of achieving the ideal body. In that chase, we compromise our health, not thinking twice before leaving it behind. But in reality, this shouldn’t be the norm. Having to stop or turn something down because of the ways it affects mental or physical health should not be a taboo concept. Learning from Kathryn Morgan, we could all take a moment to evaluate what we’re doing and how it affects how we’re doing, even if that makes us contemplate challenging decisions that don’t seem to have a winning outcome. If something that once brought us joy is now hurting us, it’s important to check in with ourselves and see how and if we can fix that, even if it may mean stepping away. Having to leave her professional ballet career a second time was not easy, but Morgan saw it was what she needed to do for herself and now encourages us to do the same.

Morgan doesn’t plan to stop dancing, and her dreams for the future involve nurturing the dance community into a safer space. With inspirations like Kathryn Morgan, the dance community will hopefully become a place that fosters mental health rather than straining it. This long-overdue change will be welcomed with open arms in all fields.