Kathryn Morgan never wanted to teach dance. “I didn’t think I would be good at it,” she says. “I didn’t think I could command a room or be a leader.” But at 21, when hypothyroidism sidelined her professional career at New York City Ballet, she found herself doing just that, at Mobile Ballet in Mobile, Alabama. “Surprisingly, I instantly loved it,” she says.
At the same time, Morgan found solace in watching YouTube videos while she simultaneously sought physical healing. As she went down various rabbit holes, she discovered that there weren’t many ballet dancers on the platform at the time. “There was the occasional child giving questionable advice about over-splits, but nothing really helpful to watch,” she says. So she decided to try her hand at the medium. “I remember being a young student and taking Nancy Bielski’s or David Howard’s VHS classes whenever I wanted an extra class,” Morgan says. “I thought maybe I could create something similar.”
Not long after she uploaded her first class videos in 2014, Morgan’s YouTube channel became wildly popular (it now has 263 thousand subscribers), and the reception boosted her confidence in her teaching skills. At the time, Morgan says, many people didn’t understand why she was choosing to educate virtually, through YouTube. But when the pandemic hit, people realized the benefit. “I was doing at-home ballet even before it became cool,” she says.
Last month, Morgan offered in-person workshops called “Kathryn Morgan and Friends,” in various cities around the country. At these two-day events Morgan taught technique, pointe and variations to a range of levels. She also brought a photographer along to take audition photos and headshots of the dancers. “It was a very happy and joyful weekend of dance, where everyone could leave their frustrations and doubts at the door,” she says. The next round of in-person workshops are due to be held on April 9 and 10 at Ballet Hartford studios in Connecticut.
Here, Morgan shares her top tips for teaching online, her favorite foods and the items she never leaves home without.
Her teaching warm-up: “I do a little bit of stretching, but not much. I tend to warm up as I go—progress as the class does. This works for me, especially if I’m teaching a beginner class. I demonstrate the whole thing, so class does it naturally for me.”
Her tried-and-true teaching attire: “I’ll wear what I wear to take class—usually my Só Dança ballet flats, Capezio tights, and a leotard and skirt. My Moore Skirts are my favorite!”
On how to structure a virtual class: “I split my ballet classes into separate barre and center videos so that dancers can mix and match. This also allows me to never cut any combinations out. My barre videos hover around 45 minutes each, while my center classes typically last about a half an hour. What actually takes so long in the center is groups, but since I’m on my own, I typically give the combos, dance them and move on.”
On creating a variety of YouTube content: “After seven years of teaching on YouTube, I’ve had to get creative. Themed classes like Disney or holidays are super-popular. Because students can refer to old content, I only release class videos when it works for my schedule. Sometimes I’ll shoot once per week, and other times I’ll go months without posting.”
On the importance of audio quality and demonstrating clearly: “When it comes to teaching virtually, audio is the one thing you should never scrimp on. I have a mic on to capture my voice, and then I lay that audio over a track of the songs I dance to in order to avoid background noise. People can watch bad-quality video if the sound is good, but it doesn’t work the other way around. It’s my big secret to quality content.”
“Beyond sound, I also recommend always demonstrating your left side first so your students can mirror you and be on the correct leg. Though I’ve taught Zoom lessons during the pandemic and offer master classes around the country, most of my teaching is for students I may never get to see dance (unless they tag me in their videos online). So, I have to consider mistakes that are commonly made and address them on my own body in order to preemptively correct my students from afar.”
Her teaching philosophy: “I want my students to know that I care about them as people first and dancers second. In my class videos on YouTube I say, ‘Hey, you showed up and pushed ‘Play,’ and that’s what counts.’ I want my dancers to do their best, but not judge themselves. If I, as their teacher, am mean to them, they won’t improve. It’s all about mindset.”
Her go-to energy booster: “Whether it’s dancing or teaching, I’ll have an energizing snack (usually fruit or nuts). Sometimes I’ll have a bit of coffee, but I try to only have one cup in the morning.”
Her favorite breakfast/quick snack: “Eggs and gluten-free toast is always my go-to. Apples with almond butter are my favorite snack of late.”
Foods she can’t live without: “Cheese and chocolate. I could live off of that if I had to.”
Beloved nondance activities: “I love playing the piano. It’s my stress reliever. And I also love editing and creating my YouTube content.”
Her ideal day off: “Having a day with my fiancé, [Ballet West’s] Christopher Sellars, is all I need! I don’t care what we do, we just love having a day to ourselves. Usually that involves him cooking dinner (he’s quite the chef) and watching a movie.”
Recommended content: “Any YouTube videos you can watch of professional dancers are great. The more you watch and learn from other dancers, the more inspired you can become. And, of course, I highly recommend my channel.”
How she relaxes after a long day of teaching/dancing: “Epsom-salt baths are the best! And watching something with Chris.”
Items she never leaves home without: “Phone, wallet (attached to my phone case), keys, sunglasses (I always wear them on my head to make me look taller—sad, I know!) and some sort of lipstick.”