By Aaron Allen
The Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) continues to provide opportunities for Black people 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 Black 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 Black 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.