Conversation with Anna Morgan

Podcast

February 4, 2022

 

Anna she discusses her life’s journey as an approved dance tutor, her educator program where she trains and empowers teachers to get their own qualifications and empower young dancers to grow and develop into professional and happy dancers. Anna further details her desire for change within the performing arts industry stemming from a mindset change, and the great need to embrace technology within the dance industry.

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Conversation with Anna Morgan.

Who is Anna?

Anna Morgan

 

Anna Morgan is an approved dance tutor for the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD). She runs a teacher training center-The Anna Morgan Dance where she tutors teachers to gain their own teaching qualifications and works work with them to get their qualifications so that they can open up their own dance schools. Anna offers a bespoke teacher training course to deliver the ISTD’s Diploma in Dance Education qualification. Alongside her teacher training business, Anna is on the board of directors of bird college UK and Royal Ballet School. She is also an adjudicator for the British Federation of festivals. She is on the advisory board of the TIRED movement (Trying to Improve Racial Equality in Dance) and as a writer, speaker and advocate for progressive, inclusive and compassionate dance education.

 

Background

Anna trained at the Deborah Capon college and was also heavily influenced by her time training and working in America. She was represented by Terpsichore entertainment in New York and worked within theater and television. When injury struck, Anna went on to train as a teacher, running her own school and achieving her licentiate and fellowship qualifications with the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) and becoming a mutually recognized teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance.

In 2015, Anna set up Anna Morgan Dance which offered unique courses enabling dance teachers to gain their teaching qualifications. So without any further ado, here is our conversation, you can share your biggest takeaway, subscribe and leave us a review.

 

Where Anna Morgan’s desire for change comes from

It’s hard to pinpoint any exact thing but I think it’s just a culmination of all experiences because I think you carry all of your experiences within yourself. And through my dance training, just life in general and the things that I’ve been influenced by. And particularly since the pandemic where I think for me as a standard perfectionist, overachiever, type A personality, I’ve never stopped. As a teen, as a child. As a teenager I was straight up. Every time after school, I’d be dancing. There was never a break. Seven days a week training. It never really stopped. And then it’s the same with work.

And I think the pandemic is probably the first time in my life where I’ve stopped. Obviously it’s been such a horrific time for so many people. And I’m very blessed that I wasn’t badly affected by it in terms of my health, my family’s health, etc. I’ve been very blessed there and actually used it as a real opportunity to sort of reflect on so many things; to learn, read and listen- and all these things. That has given me some clarity where I’ve always felt these things inside me, but maybe not knowing exactly what avenue I need to take. It gave me clarity on somethings that I need to speak on here and integrate them into everything that I do. I then started delving deeper into that and that’s where I started realizing that actually some of the things that we just accept as being just the way that they are it don’t need to be that way. But if we want them to change, then we have to do something.

 

My time of reflection

 I’ve always been very addicted to being busy. And once that was not an option for me, and you have nothing really to do other than sit with your feelings, you’re basically sitting in front of a metaphorical mirror the whole time thinking about all of your past experiences. Life was slow for the first time. So it really made me reflect on my training, my experiences, the way that I’ve been taught. The way that I’ve seen so many other people being taught. And then within that as well, the first year of the pandemic was also the year with the tragic murder of George Floyd and the kind of resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. So I started doing a lot of more reading on that and also how that integrates into our industry and the specific ways that inclusion hasn’t been present, particularly in ballet.

All these different pathways sort of started becoming quite clear to me that they are all part of the same spectrum. And that includes the idea of the safe environments that we’re teaching and learning in. So again, if you think in the news in the past few years, the amount of very big schools that have been caught out for awful cases of abuse, these are the environments whereby abuse is enabled and other things. That also made me think about how all of this happening. And when I’ve reflected on all of it, I think it all comes from this same spectrum, which is a lack of empowerment in training and a very submissive expectation of students particularly in ballet but possibly in performing arts generally. That ‘You shut up, you do what you’re told and don’t you dare have an opinion or a voice,’. We might let you have one eventually. A little bit if you become professional. But even then, make sure you know your books, know your place-that sort of thing. And I also reflected that if I was feeling this as a very privileged-white-straight woman, if I’ve already felt that, how does this feel to people who don’t fit into those classical ballets accepted boxes? So it really made me think something has got to change here. And I guess I’m trying to reflect on that all the time. Learn, listen and put that into practice as best as I can.

 

We need to change our belief system for change to happen

We could get given the biggest share of government funding that there is. It wouldn’t solve these specific problems because it’s a mindset issue. And it’s from within, rather than without. What I mean by that is, each person has to do this work initially inside themselves before it’s going to have any reflection. So to give an example, if it is to do with EDI-equity, diversity and inclusion, then are you doing that? Are you changing something? Because it looks good at the moment. It ticks a box; it gets you off the hook sort of thing? Or are you really looking inside yourself and thinking that maybe you’ve had a privilege that you now want to share out, and you want to do the right thing just because it will be better for everybody. And it will be better for the industry, for the art that we’re making if it’s more inclusive and we’re getting more representation? So are you doing it for that reason because inside yourself you’ve done that work and you truly believe in that? Or is it a box ticking exercise? So it’s things like that, that I think you could give all the money in the world to any organization for them to increase whatever that they want to do. But if they don’t actually have the people in place in power, who genuinely want to share it out and make it better for people. It’s not going to happen. So I think it’s what’s inside people’s hearts, which is obviously what makes it really difficult because you can’t necessarily see that it uncovers quite. It does unravel fairly.

 

Changing the starving narrative

We need to nurture this idea of creatives, artists, as business people. Because this is something I am very passionate about that we’ve been fed for so long; – starving artists narrative. And that the two things are mutually exclusive. That you can make money and be evil and all that comes with. Or you can create wonderful art, no selling your soul, you are doing it for the art. That’s actually a trap created by people in power to suppress the people that are creating all of this. It’s so important that people feel empowered, that they are able to make a good living, even maybe out of the arts. And whether that’s on an individual basis, or an organizational basis.

It's so important that people feel empowered, that they are able to make a good living, even maybe out of the arts. And whether that's on an individual basis, or an organizational basis. -Anna Morgan Click To Tweet

When you sell this story of there not being enough to share, not being enough to go around. Rather than a story of abundance; that there’s so much for everybody, if it’s shared correctly. Then the same people stay in power, and these same people don’t, those voices are also suppressed as well. And they’re the voices that need to be sharing their message to. So, right from grassroots, it’s a difficult one. Because we’ve all done work that we’ve not been paid for, or we’ve not been paid well for because it was great for your CV or resume, or it was exposure or whatever. I’ve done jobs that I haven’t enjoyed because I was starting out, and you do have to build it up. And so I’m not saying that you should expect to be going in at high level. And this is general, not necessarily even in the arts, you don’t necessarily need to be going in as a CEO, but at the same time, should we be really empowering young dancers to know their value and know their worth and know that they shouldn’t be working for free and that they have to expect certain conditions? I think we should be empowering people that actually from the very beginning that your talent, your hard work is a commodity which you need to be paid for.

We should be empowering people that actually from the very beginning that your talent, your hard work is a commodity which you need to be paid for.

–Anna Morgan                     

Why are artists not recognized the same way?

I’ve got a dear friend Colleague-Andrew Kramer, who’s a beautiful, wonderful teacher, choreographer from New Jersey, and she and I’ve worked together on various projects, and we’re going to be working on some stuff in the future. And one of the things that we’ve talked a lot about is, why is it that a football team and rugby team, people that I, as a known rugby fan have never heard of are being paid completely? Through sponsorships from clothing, and all that sort of thing. But I’ve never heard I don’t know their name any different than my husband might not have heard this particular dancers name, because he is not a dance fan. But why is that person not being sponsored? They’re incredible athletes, they’re incredible spokespeople, models and all of these things. And we’ve talked a lot about why doesn’t that happen? Why are artists not recognized in the same way?

Because I think it’s all just about how we’re perceived. That it’s not a real job. Or it’s not as real as being an athlete or a football player. These things are hugely respected. And everybody knows about the process. But I just don’t think that it’s talked about enough and promoted in the right way outside. So that’s looking outside to make these dancers seen and celebrated the way that sports people would do. When we think about people knowing their worth, again I think this is all part of the same spectrum where dancers, young people are starting to feel empowered to stand up for themselves, and to stand up for what they think is right. And I think that slowly that whether people welcome it or feel that they have to welcome it, it’s going to become more and more the norm, hopefully.

 

Knowing your worth and being paid what you deserve

And the people that try and suppress that from happening, use the kind of rhetoric of, ‘Oh, these ‘snowflakes, they’ve never done a day’s work in their life, they don’t know how to. They don’t know how to graft like we had to and all that sort of thing.’ But actually what that means is, we don’t want you to be empowered, and to feel that you can have a voice, a say, and can stand up and say there’s something going on in this environment, which is not okay. And I’m going to call it out. For me, that’s all part of the same issue as knowing your worth and being paid what you deserve to be paid, if that makes sense. So it’s the opposite of that submissive, ‘I’m just so happy to be here and so grateful and thank you for the opportunity. And you can treat me however you like.’ Because I’m here is the opposite of that. It’s like no, I’m here, I’m professional, or even as a student. I’m committed to this and therefore, I also deserve respect within my training on all my work.

Embracing technology generally is something that we just need to be so much better at. And again it comes a lot of the time from a place of fear. And a place of wanting to keep things within the close circle. Because for example not wanting to share because you’re scared it’ll be copied and things like that. I’ve had that so many times where people have almost gone around the houses to find something out. Maybe what I charge or whatever. And it’s like,’ you could just ask, because that information is open’. I do what I do, I’m open about what I do. I’m open about what I charge because I think it has to come from a place of service and wanting to spread what you do and being proud of what you do rather than this kind of weird secret club where it’s all ‘wink wink- nudge nudge’. I think that has to change. So again, it’s got to change the kind of yes, it’s about who you know. But we need to be more open to making connections with people to open our doors, and stop being so insular and only wanting to do the things with the people that we know. We need to open our minds, connect, collaborate.

 

But we need to be more open to making connections with people to open our doors, and stop being so insular and only wanting to do the things with the people that we know. We need to open our minds, connect, collaborate.

–Anna Morgan

It’s all about the energy

We can put all the policies in place that we want, we can write as many mission statements as we like, but it’s the energy that you turn up and the intention that you turn up with that eventually comes through. I’ve definitely learned that in myself and I found my work to be so much more satisfying and enjoyable. I felt so much more comfortable in my own space, in my own progress, since I’ve kind of known why I’m showing up. I’ve always had this feeling of having to change and do something else at some point because I’m not having enough impact. I know that I want to have an impact, develop and help people and make things better. But I’m just teaching a play. So how’s that supposed to happen?

 

Having the right mindset

 In the last few years, I have had that development of my intention, my energy, that actually there’s so much more to it than that if we hold our positions of responsibility with that right mindset. If we teach from that place, if we run companies from that place, or whatever it happens to be, which is a place of service and collaboration, not fear. And again, that starts from within. And when you go in and you delve into all of those things, you realize that so many things, stories that you’ve told yourself, because essentially, our personality is just stories that we’ve created from our experiences or whatever.

 

My personality and coping mechanism

What’s our personality? And what is our coping mechanism? I’ve for example always thought, ‘Well, I’m a perfectionist, that’s just what I’m- a perfectionist, control freak. It’s just who I am.’ No! that’s not who I am. But that is something that I’ve learned to do, because it felt better when you’re in positions as we all are as dancers where it’s never enough, and you’re constantly being compared. You’re constantly comparing yourself, and you’re never quite where you want to be. That my coping mechanism was always ‘Okay, I’ll get better. I’ll push harder. I’ll get the next thing to do. And then that’s come out in every area of my life, including in motherhood, and probably which puts a mirror up to absolutely everything, isn’t it? And then in that space is when I realized that this is actually a little bit more complex than just that. That’s my personality. And once I’ve shared some of those stories and realized what’s true, what’s real, and what’s not. Everything from my work, my parenting, my relationships, everything has a different energy. We all need to do that in work spaces. A few years ago, I would have thought this was a very strange thing to be talking about in relation to your career, and your work. But it’s completely intertwined.

I felt so much more comfortable in my own space, in my own progress, since I’ve kind of known why I’m showing up

-Anna Morgan

If you want to progress, show up and be intentional about what you’re doing and serve your purpose, you’ve got to do the internal questioning first.

 

Anna Morgan’s educator program

So for the last six years, I’ve run my own teacher training center here in the UK. It’s got a culture of dances, very exam orientated, which has its pros and cons. But I’ve always worked as a teacher through the TIRED movement and the ISTD work. And eventually, that’s with the ISTD, where I kind of gained my teaching qualifications, and then worked through them to the point where I was able to then tutor teachers to gain their own teaching qualifications. So that’s kind of my bread and butter. Now just like as all of us, I do millions of different things, but my main role is training teachers. So I work with them to get their qualifications, and then they can open up their own dance schools. Or that they’re sort of teaching roles that they’re looking for, or whatever.

 

It’s at the grassroots where we have the most impact

 There’s a number of people that do what I do and I truly believe that people aren’t really competing with each other, because each person has their own unique spin on it. And there’s many other people that do things that I don’t do, and vice versa. But I suppose what I try and do is knit together, the idea of getting qualifications with being a progressive educator, progressive human being, and taking that responsibility on to be an important person in a young person’s life. So most of the teachers that I train go on initially to work in their communities, local dance schools, etc. They may progress further than that to vocational work if they want to. But initially, that’s where there are. So they’re really grassroots which in many ways is where you have the most impact potentially on young dancers’ life, on their self-worth, and their vision of themselves and all that sort of thing. And so the two things that I really try and do is train teachers to see students as whole people and begin the cycle of this positive teaching experience.

I truly believe that people aren't really competing with each other, because each person has their own unique spin on it. And there's many other people that do things that I don't do, and vice versa - Anna Morgan Click To Tweet

Embrace Technology

And then secondly, I try and really push it into the current times in that we embrace technology. The pandemic has allowed us to do a lot of things on Zoom. So I am now able to accept students from all over the world. So I choose to teach people individually and in groups via zoom. And then after some time they can fly after a year of training and we do an intensive. Then they take their exams and things like that. So I sort of pivoted in the pandemic to make sure that we could still continue. And it was interesting because previous to that, obviously there had been quite a snobbery about the idea that you couldn’t, you can’t train dance on other than in the studio. Now we know that it’s not the same as being in the studio of course, but there is an awful lot you can achieve. And now people have sort of subscribed to that idea, because everyone in the world was forced to do it at once. So actually, there’s been a great opportunity for me to pivot and kind of create this accessible platform. So have a website, everything’s got video tutorials. It’s a seamless platform for people to learn. But also the individual human side of it that I work with them individually and then we come together in person, etc. as well. So it’s something I absolutely love and I’m super passionate about and feel like I’ve kind of found my place and my calling in the world I suppose.

 

My Vision-Five years from now

I would like to feel that the message that I’m putting out there with my small reach that I have since I currently work with a small number of teachers at any time, I’d like to think that I could expand that so that my reach is a lot wider. Because I think that this message of progressive and inclusive teaching, etc. needs to be wider than that. And the thing when I say about being inclusive as well, it’s that I think that there’s been a stigma around especially in ballet, but again in all performing arts that you can be excellent. So we can train you, you can be excellent. Or we can be nice to you. But we can’t do both. And I have this belief that it’s not just my belief obviously, it’s backed by evidence about how people learn and how people excel. Compassion, plus the pursuit of excellence is possible. So I want to spread that that message that this is all about telling everyone that they’re wonderful. And that’s it. We’re talking about all levels of training, including elite training. But with this message that we’re looking at our students as whole people, their mental health is considered inclusivity, compassion, etc. So I’m just starting in the last few years with kind of putting that out there.

 

2022 Goal

And my 2022 goal for myself is to step out much more and speak out much more about that. And put myself out there more with it. Because again naturally, I’d prefer to sit in the background and let these things happen, and not have to be the person. But you just can’t do that if you want to make changes. So I’m pushing, I’m committed this year to push myself out of my comfort zone. So I suppose in five years, I would love to still be teaching and creating. But I would love to think that I’ve got any sort of a bigger platform where educators can come, take courses and they can learn. And we can collaborate, meet people and be some sort of Super Hub for progressive teaching. But it’s all in here. I’ve got to get both of my children to school and all of that as well. We’ll see where it ends up on what to do.

 

Compassion, plus the pursuit of excellence is possible

-Anna Morgan

How to get in touch with Anna Morgan

The place that I’m most active is on Instagram, so @annamorgandance on Instagram. And again, that’s one of my 2022 goals; – to be much more present on Instagram and connecting a lot more.

 

What is your big ask?

I guess my ask would be; when you get that niggle, which I get all the time of, ‘Oh my gosh, that really spoke to me,’ And then you go off and do something else. ‘Now that person really spoke to me, I really enjoyed that.’ Can you tell us more about whatever? So connecting, engaging with, whoever that you feel their work speaks to you, and if that happens to be me, then please, comment, DM, whatever. I’m so big on just connecting with people for the sake of connecting initially, because in my experience, I have found that those connections end up being the most sort of fruitful. With actually something incredible coming from it. It’s from the people. When you first made that connection, there was nothing in it for either of you, you just connected with each other on something that that brought you together. And eventually that manifests itself into something. So yeah, my ask would be do connect, because I will always be happy to hear from anybody.

 

Push yourself to step out more

Generally, as Brits, we’re stiff, a little polite, and we like to keep ourselves to ourselves. And there’s a kind of certain discomfort with putting yourself out there and stepping out. And I know whenever I’ve worked in America, I just don’t feel it at all. Everyone’s just has a different mindset about that. So yeah, I’ve had to really push myself to do that. So I hope that everyone else will take what we’re saying as well and do the same.

 

Note 16-year old self

Find whatever it is within you that’s going to motivate you. And find out what makes you special that’s not an achievement. Like who are you? That’s not an exam result, a competition result, or an audition result. Find something that you like about yourself, that’s not tied to that.

 Find whatever it is within you that’s going to motivate you. And find out what makes you special that’s not an achievement

-Anna Morgan

The one thing not many people know about me

I guess the part of me that I probably don’t show very much because I’ve always tried to compartmentalize is the more family side of things. So I suppose what maybe I haven’t been showing, although I am a little bit more now is that my kids are my absolute everything. And so much of well, everything that I do is kind of for them in terms of, or not only to provide for them, but also the work that I’m doing on myself and all those things is for them. So I suppose that’s something that I don’t maybe talk about too much, but it’s definitely important in everything that I’m doing.

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