248. Prima Ballerina Gets Back Up After Potentially Crippling Illness
She began studying ballet at age three. By age eight she knew she wanted to be a professional dancer. At age 11 she beat out much older dancers in a heated competition at the New York City Ballet. She won the coveted role of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty at 21. Then, overnight, this gifted performer could not spend even one hour a day practicing her art, where previously she worked tirelessly for 10 to 12.
Kathryn Morgan began studying ballet at age three at Mobile Ballet in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama. She attended the summer program at the School of American Ballet in 2004 and enrolled as a full time student that fall. By 2006, she joined the New York City Ballet as an apprentice and became a member of the corps de ballet of the Company in 2007. Promoted to soloist in 2009, a potentially crippling autoimmune illness forced her out of the Company in 2012. She has since regained her health and currently performs, teaches, and speaks around the U.S. She runs two highly successful YouTube channels, has her own app, and is working on many other projects, including performing in “An Evening with Kathryn Morgan,” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Kathryn received the 2006 Mae L. Wien Award, and the Movado Future Legends Award, and the Janice Levin Award in 2009.
How Did You Start Using Your Talents?
“My parents say I’ve been dancing ever since I could walk. At nine months, my mom was playing classical music one day and I just stopped everything and started to move. Even though I couldn’t yet walk. I started taking classes at the ballet school in my hometown, around five or six. I was eight years old when I decided I wanted to be a dancer. We were up in New York, I think it was for Thanksgiving, and we saw the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. I remember walking out of the performance saying, ‘I’m gonna be up there one day. I am gonna be up there in that company doing that.’”
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“If you want to be in the New York City Ballet company, you have to get into their school. So, that was the plan. At 15, I did the ballet summer course at their school. When they asked me to stay for the year, my mom and I moved up to New York, now my sophomore year of high school, to attend the ballet school full time. I finished high school online, because we had ballet classes all day long. It was like going to a performing arts school.”
The Most Powerful Lessons Learned?
A dancer’s body is her instrument. When illness attacked her body, Kathryn was devastated. Eventually, she decided, “I’m just gonna start my own YouTube channel while I’m getting well. It turned into a blog and other things. So, YouTube kind of saved my career at that point. This sounds so cliché, but you have to believe in yourself, because nobody else will. When I was coming back from my illness, I had people say to my face, ‘You realize, Katie, you’re a failure, and you’re a fool for trying to get back on the stage…and you’re never gonna do it.’ If I had believed that, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. As my dad says, ‘Focus and finish.’ So, I think, no matter what, you’ve got to keep your focus.”
Steps to Success from Kathryn Morgan
1. Stay “on point” and maintain your focus, no matter what.
2. Believe in yourself and don’t listen to the naysayers.
3. Know who your real friends are and value them.
4. Share what you learn, be generous and teach what you know.
Connecting With Kathryn Morgan
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