Narrative and Interview by Layla Cole
Choreographers are dancers who take new and used interpretations and creative movements and construct them into developed pieces to share for education, entertainment, and to evoke thought or change. Emily Morgan is a dancer and choreographer who shares her talent and knowledge as an Associate Professor in Dance at Colorado State University. Morgan has a deep love and passion for dance that draws her toward it and makes her feel at home.
Emily Morgan is exceptionally experienced with dance. She has spent most of her life dancing, which must be one of the reasons it provides her with so much comfort. Morgan began her training at the age of three and she continued it throughout college. Morgan trained in dance at a variety of places including dance studios in Ohio, Missouri, and at The Ohio State University’s summer program. Some styles that she has studied include Graham technique, yoga, Limon technique, Kathak, and ballet.
After Morgan’s training in college, she went on to have a very successful career in dance. She has performed in Krems an der Donau, Austria with Sabastian Prantl and in Vienna, Austria with Daniel Ashwanden. She also performed alongside members of the Lower Left Performance collective in Texas and New Mexico. She has worked with Stephan Kaplowitz and with Ellen Cornfield in New York. She also worked with Sarah Council, Martha Connerton, Ann Dils, Jan Van Dyke, BJ Sullivan, and others in North Carolina.
Morgan continued her education in dance at Denison University in Granville, OH, where she earned a BA in Dance, and the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, where she earned an MFA. in Dance and Choreography. She is currently a PhD candidate at Texas Woman’s University. Morgan is interested in gaining knowledge in the arts through her training, research, and experience. One thing that really makes an impact on Morgan’s education is that she is open to learning from others. Morgan has benefited from the opportunities she has had in dance because, during every step, she was open to learning new things from other students and teachers, their ideas and their movements.
It was after Morgan got her B.A. in dance that she started getting more experience with teaching and she really fell in love with it. Morgan continued going to school so she would have the resources to access more knowledge about dance and so she would be able to teach at the college level. Morgan has taught many forms of dance including ballet and modern. She also has taught courses such as world dance forms, improvisation, choreography, pedagogy, dance history, and others. Morgan has taught at Winthrop University, the University of Texas, El Paso, El Paso Community College, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Elon University, the North Carolina Governor’s School, and at a public magnet arts high school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Morgan finds it important to take time on her own in the studio and work on her study of dance. She has introduced creative forms of her research at conferences and festivals throughout the United States and internationally in Mexico, Austria, and Barbados.
As teaching opportunities arose for Morgan, she began to choreograph more. Her choreography has been produced in Indiana, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, California, North Carolina, and South Carolina. One of Morgan’s favorite pieces that she choreographed is Rite of Spring. This was a piece with live music, where a “sacrificial” dancer’s name from the cast was randomly drawn and selected by a member in the audience. Morgan described this piece as mentally and physically challenging for her dancers but in an exciting way. Morgan has been beyond successful along her dance journey, and she is not finished yet.
Morgan is currently the director of dance at Colorado State University. She loves being in the studio and learning from her students and colleagues. Recently, she received the National Endowment for the Arts grant for a community engagement project at Colorado State University. The National Endowment for the Arts grant provides a way for art to become more accessible across the entire 50 states. Morgan works hard to use her position to share her knowledge about dance and creativity to her students.
I interviewed Emily Morgan over Zoom to learn a little about more about her. It was clear by the way that she talked about dance that it is a great passion of hers that she cares deeply about. It was so intriguing to hear about someone who has been successful in their field talk about their journey. And it was inspiring to hear how hard she has worked and how she created her career.
How long have you been choreographing or producing dance and what led you to this career path?
Morgan: I actually started choreographing when I was in elementary school, and I was a teacher’s assistant for tap and then I started making a really elaborate tap dance. So, all the way back then. But, more seriously, definitely in undergrad and throughout undergrad when I really got to dig into deeper ideas around choreography. Choreography has always been a big part of all my jobs.”
Cole: In our interview Morgan describes this specific moment as a very memorable time because it was when she fell in love with the “complete marriage between music and dance.” I could tell that this was a dance memory that she held close. Morgan was very interested in the detailed notes that she could create for intricate dance. After Morgan completed her studies in undergrad she went to New York where she was mainly teaching. These opportunities were significant to Morgan since she was becoming more interested in creating dance pieces. While she was teaching in New York, Morgan broken her foot and was told by her doctors not to walk anymore. Morgan found this ironic because she was a dancer teacher who had to walk to her job. Morgan was determined to overcome this obstacle and ambitious to continue her dance work and choreographing. She got experience teaching many different age ranges from teaching adults at a YMCA, to teaching young children in a day care.
At what point in your career did you feel that you had developed your own personal style within your choreography?
Morgan: “I would say I am still developing that, and that it shifts for every single piece that I make. I would say there are certain things that are inherent in my style, but I would say it changes with every piece.
How or where do you find your inspiration?
Morgan: Often current events, what’s happening in the world, something that I feel strongly about or take a specific interest in. I’ve made many dances that fall under that category. Nature is a big one, birds in particular; how birds fly and migratory patterns. All of that I find interesting. Visual arts, sometimes. And relationships between people and how we function together is also a big inspiration.”
Is there anyone specific who has inspired you, in your personal life or widely known?
Morgan: I really take a lot of inspiration from my colleagues and from the students, too. I know the students very much have their finger on the social media pulse, so seeing how they are choreographing-I take inspiration from that. And my colleagues, especially when I get to go to rehearsal, and see how they’re making the dance, that is always really inspiring to me.
Cole: Someone that Emily Morgan has been inspired by is Merce Cunningham. She says that she finds the ideas behind his work interesting. Morgan found his chance approach and how he uses randomness as a creative tool to approach a new piece intriguing.
What are they steps you take to making a dance, or what would you say your process is?
Morgan: I almost always start with movement and sometimes its movement that’s inspired by an idea and sometimes its movement that an idea clarifies. I think only a couple of times have I started with music, so I really prioritize the dance.
Cole: Partner work is something that Morgan really loves incorporating into her pieces, so usually after she gets the main idea or movements solidified, she moves to the partner work. She also enjoys group work and contact improvisation. Since it takes time to develop, she starts working on it in the beginning. After group work and partnering is down, she moves to the solo sections. This order also varies from piece to piece. Morgan says her approach of never starting with music or going in order tends to throw her students for a loop sometimes. Morgan says she knows that not everyone enjoys picking the music out after the movement for the piece has been finalized but she finds this process fun and exciting. Although it can sometimes be difficult adding music after you already have so many aspects of the work established, Morgan loves the challenge of putting the sections of her piece together and connecting them to music that will reflect your message or story and match with the movements within a piece. Morgan recognizes that sometimes the dance must shift to accommodate a section of the music, but she finds playing with these ideas exciting.
How do you go about the process to selecting your dancers or your students?
Morgan: I work collaboratively, so I am more interested in the dancers’ making contributions to the work, I’m interested in the ideas that they bring to it, I want to know if something doesn’t feel right. I want good dancers, I want strong dancers, but I am really looking for dancers who are willing to say something, to speak up, who are open to movement generation, who are open to raking risks. So, when I audition, I usually give some sort of set movement phrase, but we also improvise and do some sort of improvised partnering, because then I get a sense of what creative contributions they might be able to make. I’m really interested in people who are willing to be themselves in rehearsal and in performance.
What does success mean to you in your role as a choreographer or producer?
Morgan: On one level, success is getting to a place that is performance-ready, and performance-ready is so subjective, but just getting to a place where it can go on stage. Though when I’m thinking about an opening performance, I don’t think they were always ready, and I also think that’s okay. There’s space during the run of a performance for a growth, which is always really exciting, so I think that might be a marker for success for me as well that during the run of the performance. You see the piece grow, you see the dancers grow within it. I think that’s so exciting. I feel like there must be some success in how it’s received but that’s so subjective, so I don’t put that on the top of my list in terms of how I define success. Seeing the dancers make mistakes in performance and then hide them or figure it out-like the audience never knows, but as the choreographer, you know-those are little successes too, in terms of seeing how they problem solve within the moment, in the work.
Cole: As a choreographer, Morgan believes that she has succeeded with a piece that she has produced. When she sees it, she still has more ideas of what she could add, or play with, or move around. Morgan believes that this is one way to define her success as a choreographer because the art of dance is a preforming art so it can be changed, it does not have to remain a singular copy or print out, it can be molded and altered. Morgan feels that when she wants to continue working on a piece and when she feels that it is never finished and that there is always something more that she can do with it then that is success.
What has been your biggest challenge and your biggest success?
Morgan: Despite the fact that I try so hard to not put audience reception on my success list, it’s hard not to do that, so that’s a big challenge with choreographing. One of my successes was a piece that I got to do twice. I got to do it at the University of Texas El Paso, and I got to do it again at Winthrop University. It was very much a departure from any other piece I made because it was a version of the Rite of Spring, so it was a narrative, and it was to music that is really well known and has a real historical context behind it. That was both a huge challenge, but I still want to remake that piece. I want to keep doing it again, so I think that is a success.
Morgan follows her own definition of success, but still sometimes wonders how her piece reads to her audience. Although Morgan has created many pieces, she still finds it challenging to feel the vulnerability that comes with creating and showing a piece of art to strangers in an audience. Morgan faces this challenge by reminding herself that not every performance is going to get a standing ovation, and that’s okay. Morgan reminds herself to let go because not everyone is going to like you and your work all the time. Morgan also described how beginning a new piece with new dancers, or new material can be challenging. She felt successful with her piece, a version of the Rite of Spring. Morgan felt successful with her choreography, the drama of her piece, and the traditional storyline she kept to. Morgan’s piece has a six-person cast where one dancer would randomly be selected by an audience member to be sacrificed. When speaking about this piece Morgan said, “I feel like I successfully choreographed all of the dramatic tension that led to that moment and was so excited to see the piece, and that was one, talking about the audience reception and that was one that was generally well received.” Morgan felt proud of her work on this piece, it is one of her works that she still truly loves.
Why is dance so important to you and what are your hopes for the field and for yourself?
Morgan: I started doing this when I was young, and I loved it. And then I got bored with it and stopped, and then got back into it around age 11, so I chose it. I was put into it when I was young and then I chose it again for the first time, when I was not that much older, so it’s home. It’s one of my homes. We moved a lot when I was a kid, we moved basically every four years and dance was a consistent thing for me, I could have a community in dance. I cannot imagine not moving in that way and not moving in general because I have a very literal definition of what dance is and that if you look at it in one way, we’re all dancing all the time. I can’t imagine not doing that. It is an incredible gift for all of us that we have the possibility of movement so it’s still home, but it’s also it’s like the air that we breathe; we’re in it all of the time.
What hopes do I have for that dance world? That’s a good question. This is one reason why it is so important to me, because it’s community, we rarely do it alone, and there is so much value in bodies moving together-that it connects us, and I think that’s one of my great hopes. I think dance has the ability and the power to create community to forge bonds between us to help us realize that potentially, we have more in common then we don’t, and that’s my hope-that dance really capitalizes on that. My hopes for me in dance are that I continue to be able to do it as my body ages-in the way that I want to be able to do it. That I can continue teaching, that I can continue investigating, that I have the ability to continue to do that, and the work I make the words I write. But at the root, my hope is that I keep doing it and I keep using it on my own in my own little small world that I get to impact, and that I get to use it to create and to build community.
How do you keep your body physically capable of dancing over time and mentally strong as well?
Morgan: I think the two are related. If I’m not moving, I’m not in my optimum mental state, so those two things feel really necessary. I have to keep moving, whether it’s walking the dog . . . that’s the bare minimum. There are days where it’s like, “Okay, I’ve only gotten to walk the dog today, but I’m still moving my body.” I used to go to class as often as I possibly could. I used to take my colleges ballet barre. I would go to one of our local studios and take class and that’s shifted a little bit since COVID. One of the things I always valued about dance is doing it together and being in that community, but now one of the things that I try and do at least a couple times a week is I’ll take a ballet barre online, just in my house, or I do some yoga. Mornings are the best time to do that for me because it feels like if I can start my day with movement, that puts me in a much better place physically, mentally, and holistically. Time in the studio to plan, to move, to investigate, to explore, not only to be a good and well-prepared teacher, but for my own practice mentally and physically-that is really important to me.
Takeaways: Emily Morgan’s Impact
Emily Morgan is a respected, passionate leader in dance who shares her gifts by learning and teaching. She impacts the dancers and performers she come in contact to, with her gracious wisdom and knowledge. Morgan makes an impact by inspiring her students with her positivity through her practice and her expertise and experience. Morgan is a successful dance maker who influences dancers’ artistry with the originality in her choreography and pieces. She makes many contributions into the dance world and brings communities together through their movement.
I personally felt very inspired by Emily Morgan while speaking to her and interviewing her. I felt inspired by everything she has accomplished and all the regions she has traveled for dance. I also felt inspired by the way that she described success. Speaking with Morgan made me realize that many teachers demand perfection for their definition of success. Morgan does not teach her students to define success by a moment on stage but by every feeling from every moment that a dance work brings forth. She demands growth, not perfection. She yearns for the journey and the hard work, not a specific end result. It was so encouraging to hear from a choreographer who is so passionate about dance and movement.
“Emily Morgan, Associate Professor of Dance – College of Liberal Arts | Colorado State University.” n.d. College of Liberal Arts. Accessed December 12, 2022. https://www.libarts.colostate.edu/people/morganej/.