Recently promoted dancers with Pacific Northwest Ballet reflect on Black achievement in the performing arts

As FOX 13 continues to celebrate Black History Month, we take a look at the achievements made in the performing arts. The world-renowned Pacific Northwest Ballet recently promoted its very first Black female soloist and primary dancers.

Grace, elegance, power. Those words can be used to describe dancers Amanda Morgan and Jonathan Batista. Their success, as they describe it, didn't come easy. It is through their story however, that they hope you don't stop your dreams.

Every step, every leap and every rehearsal has brought both Batista and Morgan on stage to thousands of adoring fans. But it wasn't always that way. Their path was often lonely, filled with doubt about whether they would make it onto the high-pressure stage.

It was all about finding that connection, according to Morgan.

"Anyone that was tall and long-legged, I was kind of like, ok, if they can do it, then maybe I can do it," she said.

Morgan, a Tacoma-native has been dancing since the age of 2, she said. But while going to dance school, even in her later years, finding people that looked like her to make a connection was challenging.

"Especially being a woman of color and feeling isolated at times. I didn’t always feel like I could talk about how I was feeling or even my classmates because maybe not everyone understood what that was like," said Morgan.

For Amanda, she first made a connection to legendary PNB dancer Karel Cruz.

"He’s afro-Latino like myself. And he was tall and long-legged, so I think I can see myself in him," she said.

Eventually she discovered other trailblazing Black dancers like Aesha Ash, Misty Copeland, Debra Austin and Lauren Anderson. That helped Amanda continue her path to eventually joining PNB as an apprentice in 2016.

"And then being in that same position now for other people is very full-circle," she said.

For Batista, his path also felt isolating at times. As a child living in Brazil, he said he did "everything" from soccer, volleyball, music, but it was dance that had his heart, starting at the age of 11, he said.

"Suddenly I saw myself in ballroom dancing, and then one day ballet happened," he said.

Similar to Amanda's story, Jonathan was also seeking a connection in the dance-world. 

"I didn’t see much representation when it came to Black dancers. So, it wasn’t until I left for England, that I saw Carlos Acosta, the first black principal to the Royal Ballet, perform. That was the time when I realized, wow, it’s possible," said Batista.

Jonathan also said he was influenced by dancers Brooklyn Mac and Debra Austin.

"I think representation is really key for you to understand that you can become whatever you want to become," said Batista.

With stops in Canada, Boston, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Batista joined Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2021.

For several years, PNB didn't have many Black dancers onstage. But that recently changed. Now there are 10 dancers who identify as Black. 50% of the company identifies as BIPOC. And for the first time ever, PNB promoted Morgan as the very first female Black soloist and Batista as the company's first Black primary dancer in the group's history, last year.

"My accomplishment wasn’t just about me, it was about my entire community. The entire black community, the entire brown community. So yeah, it was really special," said Morgan.

Batista also said he was speechless when he found out he was becoming principal dancer. He has even noticed a change in who attends the ballet recently.

"To see more black families coming to the ballet. More kids coming to the ballet, joining the school," he said. "There’s a chance to provide young kids a chance to dream and to look up to us and other black dancers in the Company as well. We’re not alone."

Both Amanda and Jonathan have future plans to perhaps one day become artistic directors, leaders or choreographers. 

"We have all of these stories that are Euro-centric. But I’m like, what stories are going to represent other cultures. What stories are going to feel special to me and represent my culture," said Morgan.

Along with their busy dance schedules, Amanda has also started a student mentorship program at PNB. Jonathan continues to help young dancers in his native Brazil.

They hope to light a path for young dancers, no matter where they come from or who they are.

"If you don’t see anyone like you out there just be that person. Become that person and understand that you’ll be the one inspiring a whole generation of black kids out there," said Batista.