First Black Woman Chosen as Soloist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet

Tacoma, Washington-based dancer Amanda Morgan was recently named soloist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

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Amanda Morgan performs in the Nutcracker at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Photograph courtesy of Lindsay Thomas/PNB.

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium, Word In Black

The Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) continues to provide opportunities for African Americans to excel and hold prominent positions in the company. During the last twelve months, PNB had two African American girls play the lead role in their signature holiday engagement – the Nutcracker last season, named their first African American principal male dancer in the history of the company, and recently named Tacoma native Amanda Morgan as a soloist in the company — making her the first African American woman in the history of PNB to do so.

In the hierarchy of ballet, being a soloist is the steppingstone to becoming a principal dancer — the highest rank and most prominent position within a professional dance company. In the professional division, a ballerina can advance her or his career by years of dedication and work as one moves up the latter from apprentice, to being in the “corps de ballet”, to becoming a soloist and then a principal.

According to Morgan, being promoted to a soloist is a dream come true, and an accomplishment that she does not take for granted. While she has had her fair share of trials, tribulations and setbacks over the years, Morgan says that it is important for young Black girls and boys to have someone that they can identify with in the industry, and to show them, by example, that there is a place for them in ballet – something that was not available to Morgan as she worked her way through the ranks.

“The most challenging thing [for me navigating the industry was] being the only Black woman in the company for so long and also not having [a Black woman] in the company for so long, even when I was a student,” says Morgan. “When I first joined [the company] I felt an enormous amount of pressure to not only do good for myself because I wanted to be good, but I also felt like I needed to be just as good, if not better than everyone else to prove that I belong here because I was different.”

For aspiring dancers, the pathway to becoming a soloist or principal can be a very long journey, and requires a lot of hard work, dedication and patience.

“It takes a very long time for people sometimes to become principal or even a long time to become a soloist,” said Morgan. “Some people can be in the corps for 10 years before they get promoted to soloist. I personally was in the corps for five years before I was promoted.”

Morgan, who began dancing at the age of two at the Dance Theatre Northwest, has turned her passion for dance into a successful career. Her love of dance propelled her into her dreams and goals, and she hasn’t looked back since. As a young dancer she participated in PNB School’s exchange with the Palucca University of Dance in Dresden. She also attended summer courses at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Boston Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet.

You can set your mind to anything that you want to do and really accomplish it.

AMANDA MORGAN

“My mom put me in ballet because I was a really rambunctious and a hyperactive kid and she needed somewhere for my energy to go so she put me in ballet classes and I absolutely loved it,” says Morgan. “[I love] everything about it, especially the performing aspect, the costumes, putting on shows for people, all this is very much why I love what I do.”

Morgan joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 2016 at the age of 14. She was promoted to corps de ballet in 2017 in route to her most recent promotion to soloist this year.

“When I was fourteen, I came to the Pacific Northwest Ballet school,” Morgan recalls. “I went through the different levels, level 7, level 8 and then I was promoted to the professional division which allows roughly 40 dancers from all over the world and then I got into the company.”

According to Morgan, a major challenge in the industry for African American dancers is the lack of diversity, and as a whole they are still in pursuit of breaking the glass ceilings that exists.  Even at a young age, Morgan was aware of the fact that there were not very many role models or people that looked like her for her to aspire to be. But that was something that she was not going to let deter her from realizing her dream.

“Honestly, as I watched old videos, I could see myself saying, ‘I want to be ballet dancer,’” says Morgan. “There were no doubts in my mind until I started going to ballet schools and saw that there wasn’t very much diversity, there were no women that looked like me, and that was a bit discouraging.”

“I knew in my heart that I would be a ballet dancer,” added Morgan. “I was very passionate about that.”

Morgan’s story and success is one that represents how committing to your dreams and goals, never giving up, putting in the work necessary, and making your intentions purposeful and pure are the key components to manifesting your goals.

“You can set your mind to anything that you want to do and really accomplish it,” says Morgan. “It takes a lot of hard and to make it happen, and you must believe in yourself. On top of that, we should all try to engage in the arts as much as possible, engage in your community as much as possible, support the people that surround you and I personally think these are the most important things that we can do.”

This holiday season, you can see Morgan playing the roles of Hot Chocolate, Coffee, and Dewdrop in PNB’s version of the Nutcracker playing from now until December 27 at McCaw Hall – 301 Mercer Street in Seattle.

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