Kathryn Morgan is on a mission to change the field of dance. Miami City Ballet soloist and March Dance magazine the cover star appeared on the “Today” show on February 27 where she openly discussed the challenges of body image and sanity in dance.
Two days later, Morgan took to his own YouTube channel to dig deeper into the topic. She shared with her followers that she had recently been taken off the scene Bird of Fire because of his body. We caught up with Morgan to find out more.
What inspired you to publish a mental health video?
I had this amazing experience of being able to tell my story on the “Today” show and one of the things I really asked to talk about was the body image and the mental side of ballet because I was there. copes and I still do. . The problem is, the “Today” interview is only three minutes long and I just felt like I had to develop it because I couldn’t say everything that needed to be said.
When I sat down to film it I had no idea I was going to get so emotional and I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to say but I started talking and it all came out. I was like, now is the time, no one is talking about it and we have to talk about it.
Were you worried that there would be consequences in speaking so frankly?
I was mostly concerned about the negative reactions in my own industry. Simply because I told the Bird of Fire story. But when I told this story, I stayed true to the facts, I didn’t blame, I didn’t rant. Such was the situation; I was learning this role and I was taken out of it because of my body.
I knew I would have these comments, “Well you must be skinny in ballet and that’s why they brought you out.” But I wasn’t sure if other company directors and ballet dancers would say I was complaining just because I couldn’t play the part, and that really didn’t happen.
I put the clip of Bird of Fire there to show the reality of the situation. My clothes hanging in my closet are size two and zero and very small and I am considered a size large. I wanted to show people what I look like. It’s reality.
I think part of the problem is yes, ballet dancers have to be thin. Why? Because it always has been. People don’t talk about it because they’re afraid of it because that’s how it always has been, and I thought to myself why it has to be like this? Let’s talk about it so we can change that.
What’s really sad is reading all the comments from people facing body shame and I really had no idea it was going to get that kind of response.
Do you think the aesthetics of ballet make it reasonable to remove a dancer from a role because of their body?
I understand that every director has their aesthetic, but the problem is that the standard is, at least for me, inaccessible. It’s like the story I told about my friend who was told to try cocaine for weight loss. When did it go well?
Yes obviously you have to be fit and healthy to be a ballet dancer, it is a very physical art form. And yes, men must be able to lift you. But I think the problem is that the norm is this edgy, almost prepubescent look. And for many of us, that is not doable.
This standard must change. I’m never the thinnest in the room, I’ve never been. And with my illness, that just won’t happen. I will never be the skin and the bones; it is not possible for me. It’s frustrating.
How do you think ballet could continue to maintain high standards and honor the mental well-being of dancers?
This is the tricky thing. In part, companies just have someone the dancers can talk to. There is no mental health specialist in ballet companies. I think the way things are run is not good. We need to be aware of the mind games that are played with the dancers and the mind games that we play with ourselves. We’ve all been where we look at ourselves in the mirror and analyze every curve and go down a rabbit hole. I think it’s about trying to find a way to better handle this. Again, it is this standard that in my opinion is so extreme.
What has been your own journey in mental health?
When I fell ill at the New York City Ballet and began to gain weight very quickly, no mental health advice was given to me through the company. The attitude was, well, it’s not our job to get in shape so cut down on your weight. So I struggled. I fought and thought it was all my fault and not even knowing I was sick. They acted like I was coming home and all I did was eat when I was in the studios dancing eight hours a day. I didn’t have time to eat. But I still felt like it was all my fault.
I eventually contacted a life coach and a counselor at my expense. And then I left the company and got very depressed because my identity was that of a dancer and I didn’t know what to do. I got to a very low point where I was standing at the top of my parents’ stairs and wondered what would happen if I just jumped. It was the worst, and it was the only time I had thoughts like that.
Within two weeks of that moment, I launched YouTube because I knew I had to get out of it. Rumors had started that I had been fired. It was nice to be able to give back and tell my story, while still feeling important. For me, focusing on this second career was my way of healing. It was therapeutic because I didn’t dance and didn’t have to fight against my body anymore.
When my marriage fell apart, it came with its own mental battles because it was horrible and I was not being treated well. To deal with that one, I just went back to the studio and started dancing for myself. That’s how I started dancing again.
And then I went back on stage. I did it. And not in just any business, but in a big business. And everyone was delighted for me.
This is what frustrates me. I was hoping that in the decade that I was gone things could have changed a bit, but they haven’t. And I understand, the director has his aesthetic, and it’s absolutely his right to get me out of something he doesn’t want me to do. The problem is, it mentally damages the dancers, and it’s not just me. I know a lot of people who go through this. I’m not on antidepressants, but I know a lot of dancers who are.
What advice would you give to dancers in difficulty?
Think about the big picture. As difficult as it may be, because I’ve been there, there is more to life than ballet. Nothing is worth compromising your health. You are beautiful no matter what.
For me, when I am stressed about my weight, it is much more difficult to maintain my weight. When I don’t worry so much, it’s easier. When I am stressed, I gain weight no matter what I do. Mental health has a huge correlation with physical health. Shift your attention. Focus on your technique or your love of ballet. For me, it’s not looking in the mirror for a while.
I don’t have a perfect answer as to how to fix it, but we have to work on it because these poor children are damaged. It no longer agrees. The whole point of being a dancer is to love the movement and to love being on stage and you spoil it.