Morgan Beckwith finds a home on ballet's big stage

By Rita Papazian
Posted: 07/17/2009

There is a stunning photograph of Morgan Beckwith dancing in a ballet performance presented by her classmates from Walnut Hill, the Natick, Mass. secondary school that focuses on five disciplines in the arts. She is an angelic vision of pink tulle captured in a graceful moment of the performance. Her facial expression reminds one of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, comfortable on the stage doing what she loves to do: ballet.

For the past three years, this Hulls Highway teen who will turn 18 in September, has been attending Walnut Hill a boarding and day school. She graduated last month and is planning to attend The Meadow School for the Arts, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Now that she has graduated high school, Beckwith took some time out from her summer schedule to reflect upon her decision three years ago to leave Fairfield Ludlowe High School after her freshman year and enroll in a boarding school. The decision was not an easy one, for her or her family, but after careful thought Beckwith, with her parents approval and encouragement, decided to leave her familiar surroundings.

Beckwith's motivating factor throughout her decision-making has been her love of dance, which really took hold at the age of 13. However, during a recent interview at her home where she lives with her parents and brother Ryan, a high school sophomore, Beckwith traces back her interest in dance to the four years her family lived in England when her father's job transferred the family to London and Wimbledon. She recalls her first ballet lessons at age 7. The family moved back to the states a year later and she attended Mill Hill Elementary, Tomlinson and then onto Ludlowe.
As she took dance lessons as a young teen at a local dance studio, Morgan's mother Michelle observed, "the more she danced the more she enjoyed it."

Morgan says her enjoyment was partially fueled by people telling her she was good at it.

When she became a high school freshman, her dance instruction intensified not only in the lessons but also in the practice. She would spend four or five hours a day on her dance while balancing her academic studies as well. Time became a factor, especially in trying to complete her homework.

Her parents asked school authorities if she could have a study hall instead of gym to have more time for her homework. The school said they could not make exceptions for individual scheduling.

After her freshman year, Morgan attended a ten-week summer program at Walnut Hill. At the end of the program, the school personnel praised her work as a dancer and suggested she enroll that fall in the school for the full academic year.

After careful consideration, the family decided that with the school's emphasis on five disciplines in the arts: ballet, music, visual arts, theatre and writing and publishing, coupled with a comprehensive and rigorous academic curriculum in all college-preparatory subjects, this was the best learning environment for Morgan.

"At Walnut Hill, we saw a real spark in her and how [in the past] she had struggled to be a good student and good dancer. Walnut Hill put everything under one umbrella," her mother said.

The school day was divided into six hours of academic studies beginning at 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. followed by another four hours of ballet classes for Morgan.

On some days, when students were preparing for a student production, dance class could extend to 10 p.m. The school's structure was the right fit for someone like Morgan very interested in pursuing a career in the arts, yet needed to focus on the academics as well.

In reflecting upon her three years at Walnut Hill which was founded in 1893, Morgan discussed other benefits. "People came from all over the world. There is a big international population," Morgan said. "It was really an interesting experience. It's a very open-minded school. A lot of people who think and act differently are willing to express their ideas and be open to each other."

She said the small student population -- a total 300 students, with one-third members of the Senior Class, contributed to the strong bond that the students formed.

Michele Beckwith said, "It was inspiring to see how passionate the students were about their art."

Morgan said her family's experience living in England when she was younger, contributed to her adjusting to a new school environment. "I learned to shift gears and make new friends," she said.

Her mother recalls the wonderful experience she felt visiting Walnut Hill during the weeks the students rehearsed for their annual school production. "I would see the kids warming up in the studio and say, 'This is like a movie."

While attending Walnut Hill, Morgan and her classmates would dance in the annual Benefit Gala, that alternated its presentation between the Boston Back Bay Events Center and Carnegie Hall. This experience and as well as other productions while at the school, contributed to Morgan's sense of discipline, which she says has transferred to all "areas of my life." She said her education at the boarding school has also given her an appreciation for "everything she has been given and an appreciation for other venues of art and the world around me."

With graduation nearing, Morgan and her family again faced the decision of where she would attend college. While she had accepted the fact that she wanted to attend a non-traditional high school -- "even though it did not have any sports teams." when it came to college, Morgan decided she did want a traditional college experience, yet she did not want to sacrifice her interest and career to be a dancer. After careful research, she chose The Meadows School at Southern Methodist University because she will have the traditional college experience, yet be able to concentrate on her dance.

"I did want a good college feel and it has good academics and a dance program," said Morgan, noting she will have a double major; dance and Art History.

Her dream is to travel with a dance company; maybe a contemporary ballet company in Europe. Her experience in England as a young child when her family did do a lot of traveling, has instilled in her a love of Europe. "I love the history, the openness of the people."

This summer as Morgan reflects upon her life so far and looks ahead, she is keeping busy commuting three times a week to New York City where she studies dance at Steps on Broadway.

"It's really a great experience to see other dancers and to watch them." She also has a part-time job at Flash-Pointe, the dance school on the Post Road.

Morgan knows she has taken "great risks in her life to pursue what I am passionate about. She is also aware and grateful to her local friends who have been very supportive of her dream and even made road trips to Boston to watch her perform in her school's dance productions.

As she prepares for her new journey in the fall, she take with her memories as a little girl having wonderful conversations about Geroge Balanchine, ballet and music with her former neighbor, Hugo Fiorato, former conductor of the New York City Ballet.