Every dancer who’s even remotely familiar with social media knows about Katie Morgan, ballerina and Youtube star. After a thyroid problem forced this rising New York City Ballet soloist to retire prematurely from the stage, Katie reinvented herself as one of the ballet world’s foremost social media presences.
From ballet tutorials to life advice, Katie has been sharing her experiences and knowledge with ballet dancers and fans on YouTube. Katie and I have been on each other’s radar for a few years but I’ve always assumed she’s madly busy with her multi-faceted career of Youtubing, guesting, judging, coaching and everything else in between, and running Cloud & Victory basically means I have a never-ending to-do list. But I finally asked her if she would be interested in doing an interview with me. To my delight, she replied ‘yes!’
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, because Katie is reinventing herself again – she is stepping back into the world of full-time ballerina, this time as a Miami City Ballet soloist. We talk about her journey so far – coping with early retirement, heartbreak, starting a YouTube channel, body image in ballet, the impact of social media, her comeback and more.
C&V SESSIONS WITH KATHRYN MORGAN
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Hi everybody, I’m here today with Kathryn Morgan, or Katie as we affectionately know her. Probably the OG ballet YouTube star, former NYCB soloist and soon to be Miami City Ballet soloist. Is that correct?
I’m really excited to talk to her. I’ve been following her for a while and so many people have said so many nice things about her, so I’m very excited to talk to her and have you guys share her insights.
Before we start, I always like to ask this fun question– what did you have for breakfast today?
Kathryn: For breakfast today, I ended up having yogurt and berries actually, which is kind of typical for me. I either do that or like eggs and gluten free toast. I’m a gluten-free girl, so one or the other.
Is it an intolerance?
Kathryn: Yes, it’s an intolerance. Actually, I figured this out not too long ago. Anytime I have gluten, it just like my feet swell up, my ankles swell up, and my back was breaking out like crazy. And so I just stopped gluten for a while and everything stops. The swelling went down, my back cleared up. It was bizarre. So, I don’t have celiac, but I do have an intolerance to it, so I like to avoid it most of the time.
But there are lots of good gluten free substitutes–
Kathryn: Oh, it’s so easy.
Especially in New York.
Kathryn: Yeah, it’s so easy now.
So, yeah, you would barely miss the bread and cake, right?
Kathryn: Right. I mean there’s probably more gluten free bakeries here than normal bakeries.
Right, because its New York.
Kathryn: Yes. And I apologize to the listeners. I am getting over the flu, so I sound horrendous. So, that’s why I sound a little weird.
I think you sound lovely.
Kathryn: Oh, thank you.
So I think everybody kind of knows your story from how you were a NYCB soloist is on the rise and your thyroid problems that led you to YouTube. But I think I would like you to – if you don’t mind, tell your story in your own words so that maybe the people who are not so familiar can hear about it, because I think it’s a very incredible story.
Kathryn: Oh, thank you. From a very young age, I knew I always wanted to be a ballerina, like that was…it was the thing for me.
People say: “when did you know?” I just always knew it was never going to be anything else. So, when I was 15, I got accepted to the year round program at the School of American Ballet here in New York, and I moved up with my mom. And for two years, I was there. At 17, I was hired into New York City Ballet, and everything was incredible. They kind of threw me in the deep end, to be honest, with so many wonderful roles.
And I danced Juliet at 17, I did Sugar Plum, my second Nutcracker at 19, I did Aurora at 20, and I was promoted to soloist at 21, I believe. And I remember even Peter Martins pulling me aside saying you know, the work on this and this, but you’ll eventually be a principal, you just have to pay your dues, you just have to work on it.
So, I was on the track to being a principal and everything was great.
But then around about spring season of 2010…I had been promoted that previous October. I started to get really, really tired in rehearsals, and I thought it was because he was doing a new ballet.
We were rehearsing six hours a day plus shows. Dancers get tired. But this was tired to the point that I could barely get through the day without a nap. And then my hair started falling out.
I remember Romeo was on that season, and I went down to the hair guy – because every time he did Juliet, he did the braids for you. And I went down to the hair room and he was like, where’s your hair? Like, I have nothing to braid. And I said, what are you talking about? He said half your hair is gone, which was terrifying.
And then I would just be in the shower and clumps were coming off. And then dancing 10 hours a day, I started putting on weight like crazy. And it just made no sense that they weren’t talking to me going, you know, are you aware that you’re putting on weight and I wanted to go: No, I had no idea. Not a clue! No. I mean, it was terrifying. And I said I don’t know what this is.
So, I managed to get through the season, and then just the weight piled on. I gained 45 pounds in six weeks, which for ballet dancer…when you are dancing 10 hours a day, six days a week makes no sense. So I thought this is for something as wacky. So, everybody said, well, maybe you have mono. Since you’re so tired, then go to the doctor, see what happens. And so I did.
Okay. So, I went to the doctor, and they said, no, it’s not mono, it’s your thyroid. And I said what is that? And she said your thyroid gland – it’s basically not functioning. And I said, okay.
Your thyroid gland affects everything, your hair, your way, your energy. So, they’re like, well take this medication, you’ll be fine. I was like, great, wonderful.
Fast forward two years, I’m still sick as a dog, big as a house, and nothing is working. And they kept trying to cast me and things and I had to pull out of them, or I go down to the costume house, and I couldn’t get the costume closed, which was humiliating.
So, finally, after two years, I said I cannot do this anymore, like, I am so miserable and unhappy. I’m going to have to let my contract run out and just leave the company so I can go home and get well.
So I did, and I thought it was going to be a case of three months, I’ll be done. Three months, I’ll be great, back on stage.
Fast forward, another three years, and eight doctors later.
We still hadn’t quite figured out, because all these doctors were looking at me as this girl, even though I’d put on 45 pounds. Ballerinas putting on 45 pounds, that’s nothing, like you still look normal, quote, “normal”.
Kathryn: So, they thought I was making it up. So, finally, I found this one doctor that took me seriously and said, yes, you are still small, but for you the rate… they actually listened. And then he started testing for autoimmune illnesses. Why no one tested for an autoimmune illness before this, I don’t know.
And they found out it was not only my thyroid, but Hashimotos, which is where your body attacks itself.
So, no matter how much medication you’re giving yourself, it’s not working. So, then I started tweaking my diet and just trying to focus on other things other than just medication.
And during this healing process, when you’re sick and bored, you watch YouTube videos. So I started watching YouTube videos, and that’s when it occurred to me, there were no dancers on YouTube, or if they’re worse than dancers, they were like 12 year olds giving bad advice.
So, I thought, well, I can do this. This is something to kill time, it keeps me relevant.
So, I started this YouTube channel really catering to my younger self – what would I want to learn from the New York City Ballet dancer? And it kind of blew up. From that, I started writing for Dance Spirit magazine, I started judging YAGP, and pretty I started all these little extra projects that just kind of came out of this YouTube channel, and I became known as like the valley advice guru. And it kept me relevant in the ballet world, and I started teaching a lot. And so it was almost like I developed this plan B second career off of YouTube.
And at that point, I thought, well, I’m happy doing this, I’m making a living doing this. My body…I was doing gigs here and there, but I was still not in shape, it was not Kathryn Morgan of New York City Ballet quality.
So, I just kind of developed this plan B. And then during this time I met who is now my ex-husband, and that’s a very long story. But long story short, we were married for 10 months, and I found that it was all a lie.
So, after that painful process, which was excruciating – it was even more painful than the illness because it was like I had been tricked, I’d been duped, I had put all of my trust and all my faith into this person…and it completely broke my heart.
And so after that, to get through it, and to get through that pain, I got back in the studio. And all the weight came off. I’m off all medication because I went to the doctor for a checkup and he said, your numbers are the best I’ve ever seen them, I don’t know what happened.
So I got back in the studio, I got back in shape, and it was like, oh, okay, here we are!
And it’s been seven years since I’ve been in a company. I contacted Lourdes Lopez of Miami City, because it was one of my top choices. They are smaller, which I appreciate, but they still have the great rep that New York City Ballet does. Balanchine, Robbins…
Very American company.
Kathryn: Yeah, yeah. And they do a classic every year. We’re doing Don Q this year. So, I contacted her, I said, I don’t know if you have any spots. I don’t even know if you remember me. She said, I absolutely remember you, pleasecome take class with us for a few days if you like the company.
So, I went for four days down there. And even when I was down there, it was completely mind blowing to me that a year ago, I was not even dancing. And now, here I am in shape auditioning for Miami City Ballet. It was nuts.
And she said, well, you know, we’re kind of in the middle of budgets and shifting things around and I’ll contact you.
And then on April 1, she called me up and said I have a spot. We’d love for you to join the company as a soloist. I about had a heart attack. At first I wanted to go because April Fool’s Day, are you sure? Is it some kind of joke? And…
No, they’ll be like April Fools! You’re a principal!
Kathryn: Well, she said you know, you will dance principal roles, but I want to make the transition easier for you coming as a soloist.
Yeah, that makes sense.
Kathryn: I said, I don’t want to come in as a principal, let me come in as a soloist. And it’s been seven years. So, we just had a lovely talk. She’s amazing, company is amazing, and I got my contract a year to the day that I found out about my marriage being a wack, so that was a bit odd, and like.. very full circle.
So, now I still…she wants me to keep the YouTube, she wants me to keep everything which is such a blessing.
And so now I’ve kind of come full circle, plan B is still there, but now I’m going back to a company. So it’s truly incredible. If you would have told me this a year ago I’d be sitting here, joining a company, I would have told you were nuts.
Kathryn: Thank you.
Everybody who follows you is very excited for your new journey.
Kathryn: Oh, thank you. I’m so excited.
So, you know when you hear like the Cliff Notes version of it, which you just gave me, it sounds all very smooth – you know, there was some bumps but you overcame it. When you hear somebody story and just like a couple of minutes, it sounds amazing, but behind that, it’s actually a lot of struggle and a lot of doubt.
Kathryn: Yeah.. Well, I mean, from diagnosis…I was diagnosed nine years ago. So it’s been a long haul. And the person that would tell you it was really long is my mother. My mother would sit here and go – ‘Oh my gosh! Thought we were gonna die!’ But yeah know, it’s been a long process.
Yeah, I think people don’t people, when they look at somebody from the outside, especially with like social media, they don’t realize that beneath everything to get to where you are now there was like a lot of… because it was 7 years?
Kathryn: 7 years.
That was a lot.
You know it’s a long time to deal with have all your issues and everything. Obviously, when you started your YouTube channel, it wasn’t like instantly famous. So, what were you doing in the interim period? Like, how are you coping with be sick and, you know…
Kathryn: Yeah, I think…
Just getting through day to day?
Kathryn: That was hard because when I…funnily enough that went because of when I left the company, I was so sick. It was almost a relief. So, for a little while, I was happy just to be out of there and be the normal person and just to not have to start…because I was literally barely eating by the end because I was trying to get all this weight off, because I didn’t know why I had come on. So, just be able to like eat normally again and just be a person for a second. But then after a few months, it hit me that the career I had worked for for so long was gone.
So for me, it was spending time with family. My parents helped, ended up getting a dog, which really helped. My first little dog, Duchess.
Oh, yes. I can relate do that.
As somebody who has struggled with depression, I can tell you a dog is very helpful.
Kathryn: That was my doctor’s…one of his things. He was like, okay, I’m going to put you on medication and I want you to get a dog. And I was like okay, so that helped just spending time with family. And the biggest thing for me was realizing that I was still valuable, even though I wasn’t dancing.
Because I think as dancers, we only value ourselves based on our last performance, based on how thin we are, based on how well we’re doing. And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t doing any of that.
So, I had to…it was a long process to figure out okay, wait, I’m still valuable and I’m still worthy even though I’m not a dancer. A friend of mine used to say you’re a human being, not a human dancer. You know, remember, you’re a human being. And that took a long time. So, it was just a matter of day to day, you know, keeping busy. I was very fortunate in that. I had some leeway room with the amount of money I was paid at New York City Ballet, I didn’t have to like immediately find a job, which then of course, became YouTube and everything.
But I started teaching, which I was also thing that I hated…I was like I’m never going to teach. I’m never going to teach. And then my home ballet schools at lunch come and just sub for us, and I was like, no, no, no. And they said, no, just come. And that developed a whole love of teaching, which I think ended up helping my dancing because you have to learn how to explain things, and you have to learn how to why isn’t this working, and you have to tell them why it’s not working, and so it helps you as a dancer too.
So, I had all these little things that I’d never done before, and then YouTube hit and that became it. But it was just being kind to myself and going it’s okay that I’m not dancing – I’m still a worthy person.
I think a lot of dancers struggle this when they’re injured – you know, suddenly you’re not dancing. Like you said, when your career ends for a reason, and then you feel that your identity is lost…
Did you feel like you had to fill up this emptiness with something? And did you feel like there was no urgency to like, the worthy not the way like, oh, I have to find a new career, I had to do something to figure it out?
Kathryn: I did. I mean, I think that’s the other thing is because… I absolutely did, because when you’re a professional dancer at 17, and you’re on the stage being an adult at 17, like you were so driven, and we are so overachievers that that’s innate.You can’t be a lazy dancer. Like it’s just…
It’s a career for perfectionists really.
Kathryn: So, I felt like that was one of the self-esteem things where it’s like, okay, you failed, so now you have to do something else. And I will give a lot of credit to my parents. They weren’t going to let me sit around feeling miserable for myself for very long.
They said, okay, you’re allowed a month or two of misery, but I could see my father starting to be like, okay, we need to do something with this chick, like, I’m not going to allow this.
So I did, and I’m very fortunate that I have that personality. I think most dancers do is that we have to achieve something, and that’s why dancers do so well even when they stop. I mean, I have three people in my SAB class getting to Harvard. Like, it’s, you know, so yeah, I felt like I had to still achieve something. Because I was only 21 and the time 22 and was like, I’m still a baby and I feel like I failed. This is not okay, I have to do something.
7 years on, has the word achievement changed for you? I’m sure when you’re 21 there were a lot of material, tangible accomplishment – like I have to be…I was a soloist, how do I replace that with something else outside of ballet that’s equally worthy.
For you has the idea of achievement changed?
Kathryn: Yeah. And I think also going into it this time, little things that were so important last time are not as important as this time. Like, who’s doing what? And what cast am I of this? And you know, what’s everybody thinking of me? Stuff like that. That is like, that little stuff. It doesn’t matter what cast you are, if you’re a third cast…because I was third cast Juliet, and I was all freaked out about being third cast. If you’re a third cast, you’re still going to get a show, you know?
Kathryn: The little things like that don’t matter as much this time.
But I think my sense of achievement, especially for a while, was just getting through a day, especially when I was sick. Like if all I could do that day was tendus. I did plies and tendus, if that was it, great. And I think I have a much healthier approach to things now. Because for me, it was a kind of a black and white, all-or-nothing mentality when I was dancing.
Yeah, yeah. I can relate to that.
Kathryn: And if one thing went wrong in a show, the whole show was like, nope, it was terrible. You know?
Kathryn: When half the time, no one saw it anyway.
No, you focus on like the one negative you did instead…
Kathryn: Oh, yeah.
Of everything else good that happened, right?
Kathryn: Oh, yeah. Did you see the one pirouette? And people are like, no, no. Yeah, little things like that. Now I’m able to go and it’s okay. Or if I had a bad ballet class, it was like, the whole day was shot. I was very much a black or white mentality. And now if I have a bad class, well, that’s all right. I’m here, I’m dancing. Every step is a gift now. Because I truly, a year ago, thought I was done. I mean, I hadn’t put on pointe shoes up until… I would say, May of last year. I didn’t put on pointe shoe for three years, other than for YouTube. So, the fact that I’m joining a professional top-five-in-America ballet company, and I hadn’t put on pointe shoes for three years, it’s…like…tendus are a gift to me.
Obviously, when you started the YouTube, it wasn’t like, instant full-time fame on YouTube. It wasn’t like that. So, what were your first videos with your channel – was it makeup videos?
Kathryn: Yeah.They were so many, they are so bad! But I think the reason I started with makeup videos was for two reasons. Number one is I always was known for my beautiful stage makeup, like people would comment on how good my stage makeup was. So, I thought well, that’s a good way to start, and it was neck up. And at that point, I was so ill, and I was so self-conscious about my body that neckup was all I can handle.
So, I started with the stage makeup and then it turned into advice videos still neck up. And kind of just snowballed from there, but I did not know what I was doing. I still do all of my own editing, all of our own filming. I have no assistant. But back then, it was literally what? Try this, I have no idea! Like I had a bad half sheet hanging in the background in the front, like so bad.
At least you put up the sheet, so I think there’s this idea of a perfectionism wanting to make sure that the backdrop looked decent.
Kathryn: Yeah. But you know, and then they develop over time and you learn from it. I had no schedule of videos. I was just kind of making them and just …
Just kind of learning as you go.
Kathryn: Yeah, and people thought it was crazy. My mother, just the other day, she said to me, I have to tell you, when you first started your YouTube channel, I thought you were crazy. Like I didn’t know how you’re possibly going to do anything with this. She said and now look at you, I’m so proud of you. She said now I get it. I’m like, good mom, thanks, but the people thought I was nuts because…
I can relate to that!
Kathryn: Right? Oh, I’m sure, I’m sure with you. People thought you were crazy and now look at you.
Kathryn: But yeah, and so it’s just kind of for fun really into kill time and to make myself feel relevant again. And the biggest thing was to tell my story because a lot of people thought I was fired from New York City Ballet which was not the case. So, I wanted to clarify to people that I was not fired, I left on my own accord. So that ended up being a very good thing.
What came first…you had a blog as well, I remember previously. Did the blog come first or did the YouTube channel came first?
Kathryn: I think the blog came first because a while ago. Because when I was still in the company I would post little notes on Facebook. You know like the notes you could post?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kathryn: And so then that turned into a blog. People like oh, you should start a blog because your notes are really great. So, then I started a blog, I think it was called “If the Pointe Shoe Fits”, which doesn’t exist anymore, just turned into my website, which is kathrynmorganonline.com. Then people are like you should do video, so then I did the videos. So, I think the blog actually came first now that you say that. Yeah.
So like, what would you writing in your blog? Was it the same sort of advice videos or just day to day life?
Kathryn: Little things like…I think some of my first notes on Facebook and posts were things like summer course advice, audition advice, and then little technique notes. Like I would write my tips for pirouettes or turn out, but it’s really hard because ballet is so visual. It’s hard to just type it out in the blog posts and have people get it. So, that’s why the videos was the natural next step, because there’s only so far you can go and blog post. But just, I mean, I literally once I started my YouTube channel, I took those notes and made videos. So I already had content.
And when did you decide to start becoming more personable in your videos? I looked at your channel, I noticed it was like makeup, and then after that, like some advice, and then slowly became more of you sharing your story.
When did you decide to do that and how do you sort of draw the line for your own… because obviously, you have to protect yourself and preserve your sanity.
Kathryn: Exactly. I think it just came when people were starting to be more interested in me. Because at first, it was…I didn’t know if people were going to like it. I didn’t know if people were going to watch it, so I just put very basic… and I was even so like mannequin in those videos. Hi, everyone, it’s Katie! Like I talked like this!
I think it was when I started adding Q and A’s in, when they started submitting questions that you open up a little bit, and then they wanted to know the illness story, so that opened me up a little bit. And then people really started to care, because they would reach out to me and say, oh, I have the same thing or I was inspired by your story, so then you feel okay, it’s safe to share a little bit more.
And then at one point, it was, are you single?
And at the time, I was not, and so that opened up into the relationship, which then turned into the wedding, which turned into all this stuff. And so it just kind of gradually came over time. Which is why, the hard part was when my marriage ended, I couldn’t just not talked about it. Like all of a sudden, I wasn’t wearing my wedding. People were like, where’s your wedding ring? so then you have to talk about that stuff too, but I think it’s in those moments and the painful moments that people really, you see who the real supporters are.
And I truly have the best viewers. I rarely get a nasty comment, which is very, very rare. I occasionally get the you have no idea what you’re talking about, or you’re a has-been, or many times, I got on older videos, you are fat, but other than…
Oh, that’s terrible!
Kathryn: Oh, yeah. But they’re just trolls on the internet that just have nothing better to do. But even then, it was very, very rare that I get bad comments. And I think because I’m positive and I try not to be too controversial.
I think it’s something about everybody who follows me just wants a positive environment. And so I’m very blessed in my followers, they’re very positive.
And did you feel any pressure because maybe people had expectations of you like, oh, I want to see content from Kathryn or when people start asking you about your wedding ring and maybe you’re not ready to talk about it yet, but you feel like I have to at some point let people know, because they’re following me. Did you feel that pressure?
Kathryn: A little bit. Because when it first happened, I could not be on camera because I was so humiliated. So, there was a big long gap of no videos. And people started reaching out to me, are you okay? Are you sick? So, I think I put something on Instagram – “going through a rough time, I’ll tell you when I’m ready”. And actually, the biggest thing I was waiting for was for the divorce to be finalized.
Because one of my lawyers said, even though you are completely not in the wrong here, he could take this and twist it, and like it just don’t host anything till its final, so that’s why I couldn’t and that’s why there was such a long gap, but it was finalized on Labor Day. And so like, immediately the next day, I was like, okay, here’s what happened, here’s where I’ve been, let’s move forward. Because by that point, I was okay. That was six months later. And at that point, I’d even gotten back in the studio.
And the other thing was, I hadn’t done a video in so long and I had dropped so much weight, just getting back in shape and through the trauma. And people were like, what, woah, you look totally different, so I did have to address it. And I wanted to address it, but thankfully, when I did address it, I was ready to.
But I did have to wait for everything to be finalized before I could.
Well, I mean, without getting to it, it sounds like it was a very difficult period. And the fact that you were to sort of talk about it now and share in such a calm manner it speaks a lot to your strength.
Kathryn: Oh, thank you.
Because I’m sure it was not easy.
Kathryn: It was the worst couple months of my life. Honestly. It was bad. And you know what? Here we are now!
Kathryn: If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be joining Miami City Ballet, because I would have just stayed married, I wouldn’t have danced. It’s almost like I had to go through it to get here.
Yeah, I think that’s the thing about… I mean, that’s personally what I believe when there’s a very difficult challenge. In the moment, it’s the most awful and terrible thing.
But if you have the strength, if you just keep putting one foot in front of you and getting through it, you will look back and realize that… the fact that it’s not about the thing that happened, but the fact that you managed to find it in you to get over it eventually serves you well, it makes you a stronger person.
Kathryn: Yes, I totally agree.
It teaches you something about yourself.
So, do you feel like you’ve made it as a Youtuber, or as a dancer? Did you have a point where you feel like I’ve made it?
Kathryn: Oh, I’m not… I mean, you’re always wanting to achieve more. I think that’s the thing about being a dancer.
Kathryn: I will say there were several roles that when I did them, I was like, now I feel validated. Not even Juliet the first time because I was still so young when I did it. I was clueless doing Sugarplum for the first time because it’s so iconic in New York City Ballet, that was one of them. And doing Aurora. Because if you’re cast to do Aurora in a big ballet company, you know okay, I must be doing something right. Because it is the hardest role. And when I was the only soloist that did it in a sea of…I think it was like five principals and me, I was like okay, I must be doing okay. So, it was really Sugar Plum and Aurora, and also Scotch Symphony. That was another one. It’s not as well known, but I loved… that role was so me.
And then as a YouTuber, I was really proud when I hit 100,000 subscribers. I mean granted, there are people on YouTube with millions of subscribers, but I only have 150 something thousand at this point…
Kathryn: It’s still really good. It’s still really good for ballet especially, but…
Especially at such a niche industry, right?
Kathryn: Yeah, and I think Claudia Dean is the other big one. She’s got 170 something thousand. I love her so much. We wanted to collaborate.
Kathryn: She and I work so well together because her channel is totally different than mine. It’s all about ballet and she’s professional. So, if you don’t know about Claudia Dean, go watch it. But I think just when people come up to me in random places that I love your videos and this and that. I’m always surprised when someone knows who I am and I forget…so I’ll be like, at YAGP judging and I forget that everybody knows who I am.
So, I’m just sitting there and I’m like, oh, you have to keep your face straight okay, you can’t look bad, you have to put makeup on. Or I’ll be somewhere. I just random, random, like I can’t go to a dance store anymore. That’s when I forget to…I’ll just go into a dance store because I need something. And it’s like [gasp!] I’m like, what, what, who’s here? It’s me, but I forget, I don’t have that mentality. So it’s just the far as far as these videos reach. I have people in Germany and Brazil and me everywhere. It’s crazy to me. And I think for a ballet channel, I’m doing pretty darn well.
I think so too. Like I said, you are…the people kind of know you as the og ballet Youtuber.
Kathryn: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
But I think that’s very nice as well, and I think that’s the important part of the ballet community when you talk about Claudia, because I think it’s important for people to recognize it, like there is space for all of us.
Kathryn: Absolutely. There’s a niche for everybody. I mean, her videos are so educational. I mean she has a totally different approach than I do. I tell people all the time, she’s a better teacher than I am because she’s so good at coaching, so if you want coaching, follow her. Mine are different because I have commentary, I have stories from New York City Ballet as opposed to the Royal Ballet, I have the American training as opposed to the Australian or the British training, so we fit well together. It doesn’t have to be her or me. You watch every day,
It’s like if we sort of learn to collaborate and see each other’s competition, like whether it’s business or like YouTube, I mean, it’s all businesses, it’s different kinds, but that’s when we help each other to grow together. It’s the idea of lifting each other up I think, which is important to keep in mind.
Kathryn: Exactly. Exactly.
So, there was point you’re doing well with YouTube and you had your gigs, and your guestings, and you’re judging. At that point, did you feel like okay, I’m letting go of the idea of dancing ballet full time?
Kathryn: Yeah, it was right before I got married actually, which was…I got married in 2017, so it’s about two years ago. I think I even said to my viewers, you know, I’m really in a good place. I feel like if I go back to dancing, this will go away. I’ve kind of resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never dance again. My body doesn’t want to dance again. And so I was convinced.
And it was heartbreaking in a way but I was good, I was happy about it. I was in a good place, which is why this is still crazy to me. And the fact that Lourdes Lopez does want me to keep my channel and she does want me to work with company, and she says, don’t delete stuff, like why would you. She gets it. And I’m so grateful for that.
Yeah, I think it’s very wise for the director to recognize that having you on the other dancers sharing about your experiences especially the way you do, which is very positive, and you know where the line is – It can only help the company because then people get interested in what people are doing at Miami City Ballet and based on what you show them.
Kathryn: That’s the goal. And I even told her, I said, look, I want to show the other dancers, I would love to show her. I don’t want to just be about me in Miami, I want it to be about the whole company. And actually what’s really great to me is once I was hired, she said, “I kind of didn’t really know about all of this. I would love to use all your YouTube but I had no idea.” Because I think she’s… you know, ballet company directors are so in their own bubble.
So, it was great for me because she hired me for me as a dancer and not because of my YouTube. And she said that she’s like, I hired you because of your talent, not because oh, Katie has a large YouTube channel. So, that was nice to hear that she didn’t really know about everything. Because that was always a concern for me wherever I was going to dance. I wanted to make sure people wanted me for my dancing and not just for the name.
Although you know. I have to say even if you a little bit got your following you should still give yourself some credit.
Kathryn: Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure. Oh, absolutely. I mean, it helps. It does help. But honestly, the following I have partially comes from the fact that I was a soloist before to begin with. So I think the hard work and the dedication as a dancer led to this.
So, I mean it all work together. If I can help the company because I would love to they are a great company. I think the dancers of Miami sometimes are so underappreciated because I was literally watching them rehearse Four Temperaments while I was there, and I was like, oh my gosh, they look Incredible.
And they have quite a few people from SAB and NYCB as well right? Like Lauren – Lauren Vyette, I remember.
Kathryn: Yes. She was with New York City Ballet then she was a principal of Pennsylvania, I believe. And then is now a principal soloist of Miami. She’s stunning. Alexander Peters is there, Alex is amazing. Two people who I went to SAB with are there, Helen Ruiz and Amir Yogev. He’s in the corps…they’re both in the corps. And who else is there? There’s so many. I was surprised at how many people I new. I didn’t expect it. And then actually one of my dearest friends who I’ve known since I was 12, Samantha Galler. She’s not SAB but we met at 12 at CPIV in the summer. And I’ve known her forever and she’s also a soloist, so it’s like that is going to be great for me to finally come full circle with her, because we went to this summer course together when we were 12 and have kept up ever since.
And there’s some pretty hilarious photos that I’m sure will be posted somewhere at some point.
Yes, yes. Yes, please. I think we will all like to see that!
Kathryn: Yeah, I think you’d like to see those. Braces and all.
Yeah, this is a good time to say segue into something I actually wanted to talk to you about, and hear you talk about – the American style, the Balanchine style of ballet. Because nowadays especially with the rise of social media, people are drawn to different styles, like the Russian style.
And some people might say the American style is not as nice or as beautiful. So I would really like to hear from you – what are the good qualities of the American style.
The biggest thing that I learned about the Balanchine style was the freedom. It’s not about perfect positions. Which is good for someone like me who is more about the freedom and the artistry. I never going to give you the perfect positions. And a lot of people forget that Balanchine was Russian. And so the lot of the style is actually based off the Russian style. It just takes it to the extreme. And there are so many when SAB was founded, And even when I was there, there were so many Russian teachers. It’s just the phrase. I heard more than anything. Was more. More and more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger, you know, and even like the pirouette from the straight back leg.
The reason we do straight back leg is he wanted it to be a surprise. The two bent knees gives it away that I’m going to turn. Straight back leg, maybe I’m not going to turn, maybe I will. That’s what we were taught that he wanted. And so it’s just about that bigger. Sometimes, I will say it has now been exaggerated to the point that it’s not good like the hands. Sometimes now the hands are starting to turn into claws when the whole point of it was just to see all the fingers.
So things have kind of extrapolating a little bit, but the whole point of the American style is just so the people in…this is another thing we heard all the time. People in the fourth ring, people in the back of the theater have to be able to see you. And if you’re like this with your fingers all bunched up together, they will never see it, so you have to move more and bigger. And the other thing is musicality.
We at the New York City Ballet never change as written-tempos for ourselves. Peter was very big on that and I believe Balanchine was too. However, the composer wrote the piece, that’s how we did it.
We don’t change it, because oh, the ballerina needs it slower. Like No, you keep up. What’s your problem? Keep up. That’s how Tchaikovsky wanted it, keep up. And we follow the conductor. The conductor does not follow us.
So, that was another big thing is just musicality and artistry, which is my way of dancing and I knew that going into it. I knew that I was even when I did Sleeping Beauty. My Sleeping Beauty is not perfect, pure, classical sleeping beauty, That’s now how I was trained. It’s not my perfect strength.
And so I think it’s just about that – it’s about the dancing and the movement and the freedom. It’s really the American style. It made everything bigger. That’s kind of what I thought when I was there.
It’s interesting when you talk about how things have become extrapolated. You know, the hand becoming a claw. Do you find that’s a trend with ballet where it’s moving towards extremes – your leg has to be up there, your hand has to be exaggerated. Does that worry you?
Kathryn: Yeah. And you know, where I think it’s coming from – a lot of that’s coming from instagram.
I think so too.
Kathryn: I’ve kind of ranted about this on my youtube. Granted, I have an instagram, most people I know do. But what’s happening is the younger kids – and I’m so grateful I didn’t have instagram when I was little. Because they see these pictures of like, kids with their legs around around their ears, and that’s what they think it has to be now – my leg doesn’t go up to my ear so am I going to be a dancer?
Well mine doesn’t either and I was a soloist New York City Ballet!
But what they have to remember is, number one was the photo edited? photo shopped. Number two, did they whack it and get the picture or should they actually developpe beautifully and hold it there.
Yeah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?
Kathryn: It’s so of thing, and I think that’s where this is coming from now. It’s this kind of Instagram instant… like I have to look like that in order to succeed and it’s like okay, great, have you seen them dance?
And with instagram I think that goes as well for dancers who do lots of tricks. You just see them do lots of pirouettes, and it’s great that you can do that many pirouettes but is that all? And you don’t have to be able to do 11 in a row to be a good dancer.
Kathryn: No, you don’t. No, you don’t. And if you can do 11 pirouettes, make them beautiful and stay on the music, great. If you’re late, if you’re wobbling around and you don’t end it well, I don’t care if you can do 11 pirouettes.
Two beautiful and land, that’s what I love to see instead of 11 hop-around, maybe kinda sorta your arms are bent. But the people who can do it beautifully, go for it. If you can do 11 per pirouettes go for it.
I was actually at the YAGP gala. And the principal with the Bolshoi, he’s Korean. I don’t how to pronounce his name…
Kimin Kim! [note: Kimin dances at the Mariinsky]
Because he did everything… he’s nuts, everything beautifully, yet on the music with artistry. And I was sitting there going, yes, thank you… because he’s a trickster who makes it beautiful, you know? Oh my gosh, I just had to talk about him. He was crazy.
I saw him dance before, it’s nuts.
Kathryn: It’s crazy.
That’s my ballet boyfriend. He didn’t just know it yet, but…
Kathryn: Oh, he doesn’t know it. Okay, that’s good. Yeah. And I saw him because I had to coach his student for the final round too, and I saw him backstage. He is just normal and saying hi to everybody… and I was like, “that’s so nice to nice to see.” Then he does that in the gala. I was like wow, what a star.
So if you’re like him and you can do it, do it. But if you have to sacrifice artistry and musicality just to get your 11 pirouettes, that doesn’t count. Doesn’t count. Peter Martin used to say to us, don’t get greedy, do two. Don’t get greedy. And he’s right. He’s right. Don’t get greedy.
Even with form as well. Sometimes I see dancers who have the arabesques up there, but they’re sacrificing their line. The back’s all crunched and it’s low and…you know, it looks impressive but is it beautiful?
Kathryn: No, or the shoulders. Yeah, doesn’t count.
Yeah, I think that’s something very important to bear in mind, you know, a social media that it’s helped us a lot but at the same time, I think it can sort of give people the wrong impression of maybe give unrealistic expectations of people and put a lot of pressure on young kids to feel like they have to keep up with something.
Kathryn: Yeah, absolutely. Sure.
So I know … when you’ve talked about your weight gain you’ve also been very upfront about the fact that, you know, to be a dancer you have to look a certain way or be a certain shape. What is your take on body image in ballet now? I mean obviously you have to be in shape.
Kathryn: Yeah, so I mean it’s an aesthetic art. That’s the thing. We can talk about it all they long well this that but it’s still an aesthetic art so you have to have a certain shape for it. I think we’re getting more away from the super thin crazy and the more athletic, but it’s still there. Companies still expect thin. Nowadays people, especially company directors are much more aware of let’s keep the dancers healthy, let’s provide injury prevention, let’s do everything we can to help them instead. Well, I don’t care how you do it, I don’t think we’re there anymore which is good.
But it’s still an aesthetic art, you know? And even for all the struggles I have had, I knew that for a very long time I was not professional quality – because you still you need that certain look. You don’t have to be super stick. Then, I think we’re still dealing with it even more so now because again, my back to Instagram. I think all these kids are seeing instead of just… because when I was little, all the dancers I saw were the dancers in the magazines, the principal dancers and the people I was in the studio with.
We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have Instagram. Now all these kids are seeing these people from everywhere with feet and legs and who are this big around and just… now they’re just being bonbarded with it. If they weren’t Pointe or Dance magazine, I didn’t really know about certain dancers.
O when I went to a summer course, it was like, who are all these people? whereas, they meet up on Instagram now before they even get there. So, I think while we are in this place where there’s more awareness, and it’s more health based, It might be even worse now because of social media, honestly.
Right. Yeah. I think like ballet is slowly shifting – and I would like to shift it more – to having a bit more leeway of having acceptance of different kinds of body shapes as opposed to you have to look this way.
But at the same time there’s this whole other thing on instagram where you see some girls who are very very thin, and maybe some of them naturally look like that, but not everybody does. And what you don’t see what people do behind the scenes to achieve that, which may not necessarily be very healthy.
Kathryn: Absolutely. And it’s such a tricky topic. I did notice being a judge here this year at YAGP, there were different body types. And even with – I can totally speak for Miami City Ballet, there are lots of different body types. I actually find that I fit in very well down there. I am not a stick, probably will never be a stick. I never was a stick. I was never finished one of the room. And the ironic thing for me now at Miami is I’m one of the taller dancers which…
Yeah, I walked in and I was like, oh this is good! Because I’m much more suited for taller people’s rep than the short fast jumpy people. It changes company to company too. I was short at City Ballet, I’m tall at Miami, PNB, Notoriously, they have a lot of taller dancers. Ballet Wesr has taller dancers.
So, I think it also depends on the company as to the different body types ordifferent heights. But yeah, it’s still a tricky topic. It’s still a tricky topic no matter where you go. And there’s a standard, there is a standard especially.
Absolutely. And I think like we could probably spend like two hours talking about this but we don’t have time. But when we say ballet is an aesthetic art, like, who dictates the aesthetic, who is it for? Because our culture is changing, and the way look at bodies is changing, body image is changing. It’s not like the ‘90s where heroin chic was in.
The emphasis now is on athletic. So like, as audience members, I hope people’s mindsets have changed where we don’t expect to see those kind of dancers on stage anymore. So then who is really expecting that sort of aesthetic, you know?
Kathryn: That’s a very good point. Because is it all the fellow dancers, that we have to look like the heroin chic, I don’t know. Is it certain company directors, I don’t know. I know Balanchine was very famous for wanting the stick thin, but there was Suzanne Farrell, who was thin but had a womanly body. So there are always exceptions to the rule, so I don’t know. It’s a very good question. Yeah.
Yeah, I mean, that’s something that occurred to me, like who was actually placing these aesthetic demands and why? Isn’t it like a vicious cycle that if you keep putting skinny dancers on stage than that’s what just audiences are conditioned to… and that’s just what I’m used to. So when they see something different, they’ll be like, oh, that’s different, so it’s kind of like a vicious cycle. And the change has to come from somewhere.
Because I also feel like if you’re dancing professionally you’re doing 6, 7 day a week, 6 hours a day dancing and rehearsing and conditioning, you’re probably in the best shape of your life.
And to feel like you have to do even more to get yourself even smaller –
Kathryn: It’s a fine line. I mean, we have one of our teachers at SAB, Susie Polar, I love her so much. She once said to us, you have such a hard job, because you have the strength, the endurance and work as hard as an athlete, but you have to look like a model. Models walk up and down. They’re fine. You have to literally play football looking like a model. And I was like, yeah! It’s so hard. Is there that tricky balance of having to have the right amount of energy, and endurance, and muscles while still looking effortless.
And even these like football players can grunt in sweat when they’re working hard. Ballerinas can’t look like they grunt and sweat. You know? It’s like…
No, no, you’re doing like, grand allegro, and you’ve got to smile and make it look like it’s nothing.
Kathryn: Yeah, make it look like I do this all day long. It’s so easy.
This it’s so easy. And underneath you’re like, ‘I’m dying! This hurts!’
Kathryn: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And I’ll never forget when she said that because that has kind of stuck with me and that’s why ballerina is so hard. Because you have to do both.
You have to be everything, basically. I don’t know how you guys do it to be honest.
Kathryn: It’s tough. But I will say part of being on a company schedule, that does keep you in shape.
Up until I had my illness, I really didn’t struggle with keeping my weight down. I was never still going to be the thinnest one in the room, but I didn’t have to starve because we were all day. I mean, we were dancing all day long, so you do enough exercise to stay in that kind of shape if you just eat properly. So, I never had to starve. My illness was a whole ‘nother thing But what I like to tell people who are non-dancers, who don’t have a clue about what ballet is I’m like, okay. Imagine you are in the gym for 10 hours a day, six days a week in a bathing suit…
Kathryn: That’s what it is. That’s literally what it is. And do your best work at 8pm, because that’s when the show is. So you know, it’s so hard. It’s so hard.
Yeah, I mean, I’ve said this before and I try to tell this to my friends who are dancers – that as an audience member what I look at is not.. I don’t really care how high the arabesque is, I don’t care how skinny you are in a leotard or not, I would rather see, like, a healthy dancer who most important, with a performance that moves me. As an audience member that’s what you want to see more than anything else.
Kathryn: For sure.
Because that’s what moves you and that’s what makes you want to go back and watch it again. It’s not how a dancer looked or how perfect they were, it’s how their performance made you feel.
Kathryn: For sure.
So how are you managing your hypo-thyroidism now. Is it still an issue?
Kathryn: It’s not actually…since I got that result, I still am actually aware of it, but am off on medication surprisingly enough. The medication I took was not helping me. I think with the autoimmune aspects of it, it’s more about managing stress and your diet, and I think the no gluten has actually helped me with this. Speaking from experience, what works for me – because you have to be careful with that nowadays on the internet. You have to say what works for me if you have hyperthyroid issue!
I’ve gotten creamed for that before. ‘Well, you don’t speak for everyone else!’ Anyway, what helps me quote is the no gluten and just being careful. I eat pretty much everything in moderation just without the gluten.
Some people have a dairy problem. I don’t have a dairy problem. And then just honestly, managing stress because stress can really affect you.
Oh, yeah, oh, yeah!
And it’s so hard. It’s so hard. But I think one of the things that I was tested for was I had adrenal fatigue, I had all kinds of crazy stress issues, just for being in that environment. So, if I’m just aware of it and it’s a day to day managing now and I’m not on any medication, which is amazing.
Oh I’m so happy to hear that.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you.
And just to finish off with a couple of quick questions – first, what are your dream roles to dance?
Kathryn: Ooh, dream roles! Okay.
Let’s put it out there. All the directors pay attention!
Kathryn: Manon. For sure. Love that ballet. I’d also like to do full length McMillan’s Juliet…
That’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.
Kathryn: I’ve done the balcony but I never the full-length.
In terms of Balanchine and Robbins…Balanchine, I’d love to do one of the principals in Serenade. I learned it, never did it. I’d love to do you pink girl in Dances at a Gathering. Learned it, never did it. I’m the lyrical, oh Giselle, full-length Giselle! That’s number one probably, actually. I did Act Two, but I’ve never done Act One.
Just as much as I can now. I’m not a spin on your head, Tarentella fast kind of girl. It just don’t work. Anything that slow and dramatic. And I’d love to some day have a full length choreographed on me. I think a lot of dancers want that to happen, but that would be lovely. Something dramatic.
Any choreographers on the bucket list for that?
Kathryn: Anybody, I mean, Wheeldon, Scarlett, Ratmansky, Justin Peck… any of them. And then yeah, those would probably be the dream roles. That’s a lot. But at this point, I’m just happy to do anything.
And I’d like to finish off with one question, which is what advice would you like to give to your younger self, if any?
Ooh! To my younger self, knowing what I’ve been through – it’s not going to be an easy path, Katie, but it’s special. You’re going through it for a reason and you’re going to have a unique a story to tell once you get there, and it’s going to be a lot of – that’s the thing about the internet, I get a lot of – not to digress from this, that people often come up to say I didn’t dance Juliet by 17, so I must be failing. I’m like, okay, don’t compare yourself to my story because guess what? At 22, I quit, so you can’t compare yourself to other people’s stories.
So, just take it one day at a time, appreciate it, because I think that’s looking back on my time at New York City Ballet that’s the regret I had. I wish I had enjoyed it more because I was so stressed out, and working so hard, and trying to just be the best at everything, which is impossible that I forgot to enjoy it a lot of the time. So, enjoy it and just know that your path is meant for you for a reason. So,hard, hard, hard to deal with.
It’s easier said than done, but that’s part of the process of its learning, isn’t it?