Western Washington Gets Real: First Black female named soloist at Pacific Northwest Ballet

SEATTLE — The ballet world has rarely seen a dancer quite like Tacoma-born Amanda Morgan, and she is breaking new ground at the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Morgan stood out from the start: the only Black dancer at the PNB when she joined; she was the first dancer to help start its mentorship program.

Now she is the first Black female dancer promoted to PNB soloist, making history during the company’s 50th season.

The first thing you notice when you watch Morgan dance are her legs — and you quickly discover this is where she was meant to be.

“I have just always loved to dance,” said Morgan. “Like even when I was one. Like there is a video of me when I’m one, and I’m holding a football. And my dad just is saying, ‘Ballerina.’ I hear that word. I’m like one year old in this video. And I’m just like dancing and getting really excited.”

She credits her life in ballet to her arts-loving mother, who immigrated as a child from the Dominican Republic but never had a chance of her own.

“And then she saw that I loved to dance, and she said, ‘Well, I want my kid to, you know, have the opportunities to be part of the arts if they want to because I didn’t,’” Morgan said, then laughing. “Also, I was really hyper and crazy as a kid. And I think she just wanted to get rid of me in a way. She’s like, ‘I can’t anymore.’ And somehow, I would focus in ballet class when I was two-and-a-half.”

In 2011, when she was 14, Morgan was, at the time, the only Black female dancer at the PNB. Then in 2022, she made history again.

“She is an artistic collaborator of note,” Peter Boal, PNB Artistic Director, told an audience last spring. “An advocate and activist for racial and social justice in our community. And she’s PNB’s newest soloist.”

To rapturous applause, she became the first Black female in PNB’s 50-year history ever promoted to soloist.

She was asked what she would say if someone asked what she does.

“I would say I’m an artist,” she said. “Yeah, because I think it’s all-encompassing. I wouldn’t say, ‘I’m just a ballet dancer.’ I also choreograph. I run a mentorship program. I’m also the director of my own kind of company collaboration thing. I do a lot of stuff.”

Morgan said she isn’t dancing nearly as much now that she is a PNB soloist. But she is plenty busy.

She is choreographing her first full-length work. The working title is “Chapters,” an exploration of a life in dance, at least so far. It will premiere at the Northwest Film Forum in early May.

“I am aware of the gravity that my career kind of has right now,” said Morgan. “And hopefully, it provides a lot of space and opportunity for more people to be a part of that from our community.”

All the while helping blaze the trail that others can now follow.