Sunday, 18 April 2010

Cupcakes & Conversation with Kathryn Morgan, Soloist, New York City Ballet

Cupcakes & Conversation with Kathryn Morgan, Soloist, New York City Ballet

Kathryn and I share a passion for widening the reach of ballet; bringing ballet to people who, at the moment, just don't see what ballet has to offer them or why it's even relevant to their lives.  And so of course, I had to interview her to find out more.  Tweeting ballet dancers have been in the press recently, and social media is one way of de-mystifying what goes on in the ballet world to a wide audience.  The Cupcakes & Conversation series of interviews is another.  I hope you enjoy.

Kathryn Morgan in Dances at a Gathering
Photographs throughout :  Paul Kolnik

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Just starting a new day of dancing. Honestly, my passion for ballet is what constantly keeps me going, even though I am a morning person and get up easily anyway!

What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
Many different ballets - because we tend to find out casting only two weeks before, it is hard to know for sure what I will be doing! However, things that are possibly coming up for me are Scotch Symphony, Divertimento No. 15, Who Cares, In the Night, and a new ballet by Peter Martins.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
My favorite person to dance with is Tyler Angle! So anything with him! But at some point in my career, I would love to dance Swan Lake, the MacMillan Romeo and Juliet, and Giselle. I also want to do as many Balanchine and Robbins ballets as I can. But I'm only 21, so I have time!

Kathryn Morgan in Romeo and Juliet with Seth Orza

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I want to dance all over the world - Covent Garden, La Scala, the Opera Garnier, to name a few. However, I am already dancing at my dream place - New York City Ballet!

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
First, depending on the ballet, I cut the shank. If I need a hard shoe, I only cut a fourth of the shank; if I can have a softer shoe, I cut half of the shank. Then I shave edges of the outer sole with a Stanley knife to give the shoe a more streamlined look. Then I simply sew on the ribbons and elastic. For performances, I always rosin my heel and toes before I put the shoe on. Then I scrape the bottom so I don't slip and rosin like crazy! It's a long process, but for me, it is worth the extra effort.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I wake up and eat breakfast while I check my email and read for a while. Then I have a little routine that consists of some yoga and Pilates mat work that I always do before I leave in the morning. We have 10:30 class for either an hour or hour and a half depending on the day. We then rehearse all day with an hour off somewhere until 6:00. If there is a performance, I grab a little something to eat, get physical therapy, do hair/makeup, and then perform at 7:30 or 8:00. If I don't, I usually just head home, eat dinner, and either watch television, workout, sew shoes, take an Epsom salts bath, get random things done, or all of the above! I try and always go to bed at a decent hour because I really need my sleep.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Audrey Hepburn, George Balanchine, Darci Kistler, Fred Astaire, Coco Chanel, and HM Queen Elizabeth.

What would surprise people about you ?
My mom is my best friend. We really no longer have a mother - daughter relationship. I can tell her anything, and she is my rock.

Kathryn Morgan in Flower Festival in Genzano

Who inspired you to dance ?
I grew up watching many different dancers on videos - Alessandra Ferri, Darcey Bussell, Julie Kent, Darci Kistler, and so I was inspired by and looked up to all of them. But I think what really drove me to dance was not a 'who' but a 'what' - music. Even before I could walk, I was obsessed with music, especially classical, and it was as if I wanted to become the music itself. Dancing was the only way I knew how.

What is your best piece of advice ?
Although it is easier said than done, don't compare yourself to others. If you constantly worry about what other people are doing, you are letting time go by that you could be using to improve your own dancing. There is always going to be someone who can jump higher, turn more, and have better extension. Instead, work on what you need to improve and be proud of your own strengths. Believe in yourself!

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I definitely have a little routine. I always shower so I feel fresh. I make sure I eat a little something to have energy but nothing too heavy to weigh me down. Then I always do my hair first and makeup second. I am a little obsessive about my makeup; it is actually somewhat of a stress-reliever for me and calms me down before a performance. Then I head down to the stage about an hour before I am scheduled to dance to stretch, warm-up, and get my shoes on. Then I get into costume at about the ten minute call so I can jump around onstage and practice a few things before curtain.

Kathryn Morgan and Tyler Angle in The Sleeping Beauty

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Definitely Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. It is the most technically challenging role I have ever done. The hardest part is knowing how to pace yourself throughout the course of the evening. It is not a role where you push as hard as you can for five minutes and then you're done. With Aurora, you carry the entire ballet and have to show not only pristine technique but the character change from an excited 16-year-old to a regal princess.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
Either something long and flowing in a pastel color or a tutu with tons of sparkling jewels! Two totally different costumes, but I think both are 'me' in some way!

What do you look for in a dance partner ?
First off, someone I can completely trust. Also, someone who cares not just about the steps but about the music and artistry of whatever ballet we are doing. I think that is why Tyler Angle I and dance so well together. We both hear music the same way and have the same artistic approach to our roles. Most importantly, I trust him 200%.

What is your favourite quote ?
"Strive to be quietly excellent." - Rick Morgan - my dad! I grew up on this statement.

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I am not really known for any one 'step' per se. My trademark is definitely my artistic side and lyricism. I love getting into character and acting onstage. I think this is because I am shy in real life, and ballet is my way of expressing my emotions. Even if the ballet I am doing has no story, I love finding something to convey in everything I dance.

Kathryn Morgan in Scotch Symphony with Robert Fairchild

A phrase I use far too often is ... ?
" I'm sorry". I'm always saying it in rehearsals!

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
I believe it would have to be dancing Juliet (from Romeo & Juliet). It is the most fulfilling ballet to dance because it allows you to feel every emotion anyone could ever have. My debut was so exciting and will be something I will never forget. However, I have loved developing the role over time and finding a different story with every Romeo I dance with - I've had three!

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
Well it's not a secret, but I play the piano. I took lessons for seven years.

Kathryn Morgan in Peter Martins' Stabat Mater

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
I hope to just be dancing as much as I can. I would love to guest and perform in many places and do a wide variety of roles. I hope to keep improving both my technique and artistry and challenge myself to be the best dancer I can. One other thing I hope to do is bring ballet to people who, right now, might not know anything about it. That is why I enjoy using facebook, twitter, and other technology, to expose the world to ballet.


  1. Another wonderful interview. I love to read these. It's so interesting to see the different responses. The photos are just lovely as usual. Thank you so much for opening up the world of ballet to me.

  2. Thanks for your lovely comment am still reading your blog regularly.I have just had to google rosin but still not sure what it is it some kind if sealer.
    take care.

  3. Great interview, complete with great photos! Would love to attend that imaginary dinner party, as most if not all the guests would be on my list as well!

  4. You keep me updated on the ballet I love it . thanks for posting and sharing and have a great week .

  5. What a great interview...and I have to say I could dive into one of those stunning cupcakes right now! Thanks for stopping by...yes I am lucky to have always lived on or near a beach, but now I am raising my sons in a desert, with the closest beach 5 hours away (unless of course you count the fake beach at Mandalay Bay!...not!)So it is holidays for me now...
    Have a great week ahead,

  6. I love love love reading all these wonderful interveiws!

  7. Hi! It's amazing what ballerinas do to prepare before a performance... It puts my little routine in the morning {before a day with sixth and seventh graders}...

    In a sense, as a teacher, I need to be prepared for a performance ... their discipline is inspiring for me...
    Can you imagine if everyone challenged themselves to be 'the best they can be.' ?!?
    Have a wonderful week! ~Maria

  8. I absolutely love reading your Q & A posts. It is a world I know nothing about and I am so taken aback by the talent and accomplishments of some of these people and how young and disciplined they are. Truly amazing people. I also love the pic entitled "Kathryn Morgan in Flower Festival in Genzano". That is just amazing! such confidence in her face, but gentle, yet strong. love it! Thanks for visiting me today. This is why I love to blog.... dear blog friends like you,,,

  9. you always pick the best photos for these posts--they're always so beautiful and inspiring. and i love the concept behind "cupcakes & conversation".


  10. Hi- This is Kathryn Morgan! I am here to answer any questions you may have! Poppy- rosin is a powder substance that we use to help with traction on the floor. Basically it helps prevent slipping. Violinists often use it to grip their bows.

  11. Thank you for answering that for me Kathryn. My niece plays the violin and she said she uses it but we didn't think it would be the same thing.

  12. Hi Elise, and Kathryn,

    Just wondering, and I imagine it's different for every ballerina, but what do you think are the essential qualities (personality traits or other strengths) for a professional ballerina to have?

    Your photos are beautiful - I can't believe you're only 21!

    Hannah x

  13. Hannah, I believe the first thing every dancer needs is passion. If you don't love what you do, this career is way too hard. There are many tough days, disappointments, pain, aches, etc. In order to succeed, a dancer must have a need to dance. Other important traits to have are obviously discipline and determination but also an awareness of what you are doing. Even if a ballet doesn't have a story, it is important to have an approach and some sort of feeling to what you are portraying. The audience doesn't want to just see steps- they want to be moved and see something magical.

  14. What an insightful answer - I love that you talk about 'feeling'. To me, the ballets that I love are those that communicate emotion (and magic) as well as 'pure dance' which can seem so clinical (I once saw a russian production of the Nutcracker that was guilty of this and was so disappointed).

    It's clear you're passionate and determined too (as well as utterly talented)!

    Thanks for answering my question, and thanks to Elise for making it possible!


  15. Hi there,
    Beautiful photos! Love the list of dinner partners. The cupcakes look amazing.
    Yes you did spy cupcakes on my last post.
    Thanks so much for visiting.
    Maybe you can help me with a question, I'm wondering the best place to look for old pointe shoes to do some artwork on? I don't want to use my old ones of course.
    Thanks so much for your always lovely ballet posts.

  16. So young, and such wise answers!
    I envy people like Kathryne Morgan who have passion for their profession, and I like her motto "Believe in yourself".
    She looks fantastic in the above pictures.

  17. Fascinating as usual, & I thought what she said about not comparing oneself to other people particularly useful advice. These interviews, & the use of ballerinas on Twitter, are an excellent way of spreading insights into ballet to a wider public.

  18. Charli and me - thank you for your lovely comments !

    Poppy - hi, hope Kathryn's answers have helped you solve that puzzle ! You used to see rosin trays on the side of the stage but in the UK at least, that doesn't happen any longer.

    The Zhush - I love asking that question because it often throws up combinations that you yourself would like to seat around a dinner table and have a good old natter.

    phonelady - that's what it's all about so I'm glad to see you here !

    DolceDreams - thank you

    Regan - that's just so kind of you to say so, thank you. It's very much appreciated.

    Maria - you've hit the nail on the head there. Not many people appreciate the dedication and sheer hard work that goes into just getting into a ballet company, let alone reaching Kathryn's level. I aim to change that perception here !

    Lori R. - what lovely eloquent comments you've left for Kathryn - I'm sure she'll be thrilled ! Thank you as well for sticking with something new to you - I hope you continue to find inspiration here.

    Erica Leigh - believe me, it's not hard to pick a good picture of a ballet dancer ! Thank you for your lovely comments.

    Hannah - hello and I hope that helps you. Kathryn has summed it up perfectly.

    Rosemary - thank you for your lovely comments. Well, to answer your question, do you have a ballet company locally ? The old shoes have to go somewhere and they might as well go to you if you have a use for them... Not all ballet companies will agree because of the cost of supplying them, but an alternative would be if you know any individual dancers - maybe there is something you can offer in kind ? Ribbons or something like that ? I personally ask dancers if they will give me their old shoes, and no-one has ever said no. Would LOVE to see your results - please keep me posted.

    DUTA - yes, I think we all have the potential to follow such advice but it's not easy every day... that's why ballet dancers are such high achievers and why there are so few of them at the top.

    Anne - thank you so much for persevering ! In the end it came through three times but I've just deleted the extras to make it easy reading for everyone.

  19. New York City Ballet soloist at 21 - fabulous achievement & a wonderful interview!

  20. Wow this is a great interview! And gorgeous photos as well! Have a great week doll ;) xoxo

  21. Gosh she is wonderfully passionate about ballet! And such a creative person.

  22. What a beautiful dancer and inspiring interview.

  23. Wonderful interview, this life just so fascinates me. It seems that a lot of dancers are naturally morning people too! I happen to be a morning person also, I just love the early morning and getting a start on my day! She is such a passionate lady, and I'm glad that you and she are involved in spreading ballet and widening the reach.

    Happy Tuesday! :):)


  24. "what ballet has to offer them or why it's even relevant to their lives"

    I have noticed that many attendees of various professional events in golf, tennis, basketball, biking, running, etc. actually participate in a more amateur version of the event. This is what keeps them interested in the events ... the fact that they can participate in some limited degree. This isn't true for every event we attend in life, but for some events this is true.

    So, if more people were introduced to dance through dance classes, they might take more of a shine to it. Also, until more men are won over into loving dance (or being less afraid that their manhood will vanish if they participate in / attend dance), theaters may continue to remain only half full for performances.

    Anything that will increase a future audiences PARTICIPATION in dance will help keep up the interest.

    I find it sad that some Zumba class in some gym will have like 40 women and 1 male. But an adult ballet / modern / jazz will be continually be under the threat of having to cancel because of low participation. This has to do with lack of proper marketing.

    How can ballet be relavent to peoples lives? For one, the obesity rate is something like 17 to 30 percent depending where you live. Yet, in ballet schools, the obesity rate is zero percent. Obviously, ballet people have health secrets that the rest of us could use. And they keep fit while listening to uplifting classical music instead of 120 thumps a minute music. This is what The New York City Workout book and DVDs was trying to show.

  25. Kathryn is so young. I love that she is so passionate about her dancing!

  26. Wonderful interview, and such enchanting photos!

  27. Hi Kathryn!!

    I don't really have a question for you, but I just wanted to leave a comment and tell you how much I look up to you. I am a ballet dancer as well, and you are so inspiring to me. I so appreciate your honesty and insight in this interview. I can relate to so many things that you have mentioned here! Thanks for being the wonderful person that you are! You are beautiful. :-)

  28. Marie- Thank you so much! I really appreciate the comment! Good luck with your dancing!

  29. Hi Kathryn, i adore city ballet!
    What do you think it is that gives modern ballets by balanchine and robbins etc an exciting edge over classics?
    also, my personal favourite ballet is dances at a gathering, i find it is very relaxed. what is the highlight of performing that ballet?
    (i think it is great that you and some other dancers have twitter as it is great to see behind the scenes!)

  30. I believe that the interesting patterns, speed, and steps themselves are what make 'modern' ballets by Balanchine and Robbins interesting. The corps often dances as much as ore even more than the principals and every dancer on the stage is used in a creative way. I also think arm and head positions distinguish these ballets as well as the amount of steps in a phrase of music.
    Dances at a Gathering is such a special ballet to perform. It is very much a group effort and it feels like a little family. Often there are not many people around backstage during the ballet so you do really feel that you are in a special little world. It is also very interactive. Robbins encouraged the dancers to react and relate to each other, so being able to smile at your friends while you are dancing really makes it such a unique experience. You play off of each other and often performances are very spontaneous. So basically the camaraderie is what makes Dances so incredible to dance.

  31. Zuzu - thank you !

    Taj Acosta - thank you - you too !

    Make Do Style - I think you've got to be, otherwise you jsut wouldn't make it

    Ballet Madeline - thank you !

    Inspiration in Italy - I agree

    balletomane1 - thank you for your comment

    Miss Val's Creations - I agree

    Audrey Allure - thank you

    Marie - thank you.

    Charlotte - thank you and I hope Kathryn's answer has helped.

  32. Kathryn,

    You are so amazing, and I hope I will be able to see you dance live some day!

    I am going to SAB this summer for the first time. I am 16 and would love more than anything to be invited to stay for the year. Do you have any advice for me?
    Any other advice for an aspiring professional dancer?

    Thank you for being an inspiration to me, and I hope all of your ballet dreams come true as you continue to have an amazingly successful career! :)

  33. Kathryn Morgan9 May 2010 at 12:18

    Anonymous- Thank you so much for the compliment! Congratulations on coming to SAB for the summer. You will love it! While the teachers at SAB obviously love people who are talented and have a great work ethic, there are definitely other things they look for. They want to see someone who has a passion for ballet. They really don't like when people just stand in the back, do the combination only once, and just appear as if they don't want to be there. They love energy and total focus. Another important thing is to apply corrections immediately. They get very frustrated when they are constantly repeating themselves. I am not saying they expect perfection, but they are looking to see who absorbs things because those are the people they are going to want to teach for the year. I think this is all advice professionals could use. Passion, dedication, and being quick to adapt will get you very far!
    Good luck this summer! Hope you have a wonderful time!

  34. Thank you, Kathryn, for the glimpses of a dancer's life you give us on Twitter.
    I wondered if, when you perform in contemporary choreography, you feel as if you are using your classical training and technique to a lesser extent.

  35. Kathryn Morgan9 May 2010 at 15:08

    Hi Anne! I think classical technique is beneficial for all types of choreography. I definitely feel the strength that comes from classical technique when dancing contemporary pieces. By having a solid base, you can allow your body to do different types of movement and feel free. However, the hard part comes in when choreographers ask you to forget about technique or balletic lines. This happens a lot, so figuring out how to forget everything you are used to can be challenging. But without a strong foundation of ballet, everything else would be so much harder.

  36. Thank you, Kathryn, for your answer to my question, making sense of the contrasts between classical and contemporary ballet. I must admit I asked it because I've often thought, watching some contemporary works, 'What a waste of their training!'

  37. Hi! You are truly an inspriation, and I hope you continue moving up the ranks at NYCB!

    I was just wondering if you have any tips on getting into SAB?
    And is there a specific type of dancer they look for? Do they accept dancers with mildly bowed legs?
    If I didn't get accepted for summer, but I feel like I have improved enough for the winter course, do you think it's even possible I'd get in?

    You are an amazing dancer!

  38. Really sorry everyone - Blogger has had some issues with posting comments and until they are sorted out, I can't post Kathryn's reply to the question.

  39. Kathryn Morgan12 May 2010 at 18:20

    Dear Anonymous- Thank you for your compliments! And Congratulations on coming to SAB for the summer! You will love it! As far as what the teachers are looking for, yes, talent, work ethic, and dedication are important, but here are a few other helpful hints. The teachers love enthusiasm. They really don't like when someone comes to class, just stands in the back, does the combination only once, etc. They want to see someone willing to learn and absorb all of the information. Also, apply your corrections right away. They really dislike repeating themselves over and over. I am not saying they are looking for absolute perfection, but they at least need to see you trying. Something that is also beneficial is "being quick". Try to get combinations right away. Both the school and the company are all about being adaptive and efficient, so someone who is a quick study will go a long way. However, the most important thing they want to see is passion. If they see your love of dance in every step you do, that is what really counts, and those are the people they are going to want to teach in the fall. I think all of these tips are great for professionals as well- passion, adapting, and being efficient will take you to the next level. Good luck and have a wonderful time!

  40. Hi Kathryn, I was wondering what advice you would give when it's time to start pointe work - what sort of shoes to try & how to find the right ones, & what sort of exercises really help with foot strength, and how to make the whole thing more comfortable. Is it enevitable that it will hurt ?

  41. Hi Kathryn, I'm really enjoying all your answers and so I wanted to ask a question too. How do you think ballet can be more interesting to people ? My friends laughed when I started ballet but now I can do so many things that they can't, and I think they are starting to respect me more, but I'd love to have had an easier start.

  42. Tage and Melissa16 May 2010 at 03:01


    We've really enjoyed reading your interview and all the wonderful things you have to say! Your pictures are beautiful!

    We were wondering how company class at NYCB is divided up with so many dancers. Do you all take class together or is it separated by rank or gender?


  43. Kathryn Morgan18 May 2010 at 12:23

    Hello Everyone! Sorry I haven't replied in awhile!

    To the first Anonymous who asked about shoes-
    When starting out pointe work, you need to make sure you first have a shoe that fits properly. While I love Freeds, the brand doesn't matter so much as the fit. If you are working in ill-fitting shoes, your foot will start to compensate, do weird things, and eventually, this leads to injury. So if you can, go to a ballet or dance store and have your pointe shoes fit by someone who is knowledgeable. As far as exercises, relevees in the shoes are always beneficial, but I also love using a theraband or a resistance-elastic type band. Point and flex your whole foot, then your ankle, and then just your toes. This works all of your muscles in your foot so you can point all the way to the tips of your shoes. Also, just simply balancing on one foot flat on the floor (not in shoes) helps build the stabilizing muscles in your foot. This will help in every area of your dancing. As far as whether or not you can avoid pain, try different padding and cushioning in your shoes so that you find something that makes it less painful. Every person likes something different. I like thin lamb's wool because I need to feel the floor. It hurts at first, but once your feet get used to it and build up calluses, you will be amazed at how comfortable it will start to feel. I don't have any pain now except if I get a blister or something. But the day to day dancing no longer hurts. Hope this helps!

  44. Kathryn Morgan18 May 2010 at 12:36

    To the second Anonymous, I completely understand about making ballet more interesting!!!!! That is why I am passionate about using technology like twitter and facebook to make the ballet world more accessible. I think people need to understand that ballet is more than just a beautiful art. It is very athletic. I had a teacher at SAB that would always tell us that we have to be both an athlete and a model. We need to have the strength, work, and sweat of an athlete but have the grace and effortlessness of a model. A football player can be as sweaty and gross as they want. We work just as hard yet no one is supposed to see it!!! So as far as your friends go, they somehow need to learn how to appreciate it. This is hard because I know you don't want to force it down their throats! But, if they could just go to a performance, they might start to feel differently. Start them out with something more "real"- not Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. This will show them that ballet is not all "tutus and tiaras". I know someone who had friend that thought ballet was ridiculous. Then, they came to a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and now they love it! I think it was because there was some drama and something they could relate to! Even though it was classical, it wasn't just pink and pretty. Also, my uncle had no clue about ballet, and then he saw Balanchine's 4 Temperaments and was fascinated. He loved the clean lines of the piece and the fact that it was pure dance. If your friends see something more human and real, they will be more likely to open up. Good luck!

  45. Kathryn Morgan18 May 2010 at 12:40

    Tage and Melissa,
    We all take company class together! Needless to say it is pretty crowded, but we like being with everyone. However, company class is not required (but very encouraged) as we are allowed to take at other places. I sometimes take at SAB while other people like Steps on Broadway or great teachers elsewhere. Sometimes, if you had a hard show the night before, it is easier just to warm up yourself! So while company class is usually crowded, it is never the entire company all at one time!


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