A ballet dancer with a passion for politics

Published: May 30, 2017

Morgan Buchanan as Dewdrop in The Nutcracker (Photo by Allen Birnbach)

Morgan Buchanan as Dewdrop in The Nutcracker (Photo by Allen Birnbach)

Soloist with Colorado Ballet pursues a Political Science degree

Morgan Buchanan (Photo by Francisco Estevez)

Morgan Buchanan (Photo by Francisco Estevez)

Morgan Buchanan's schedule, like that of many undergraduates, is packed. She juggles classes, studying, friends and family. Her days are long, and she has learned how to make use of every break. Her job is especially demanding. In 2016, after years of training and dedicated study, Buchanan became a soloist for the Colorado Ballet. If you have driven past the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, you have seen Buchanan's photograph.

Buchanan brings that same dedication to all aspects of her life, including her studies at CU Denver, where she is enrolled as a Political Science major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).

Depending on the season, Buchanan performs three to five days a week, and her rehearsal schedule is intense, sometimes lasting until 10 p.m. She is on her feet all day, perfecting pirouettes, and examining her every move to ensure that she is conveying the purest expression of emotion.

"In dancing, you can act with your body," Buchanan said. "It’s incredibly challenging, but thrilling when you have conveyed a certain emotion to the audience and done it well."

Buchanan's rehearsal and performance schedule may only allow her one day off a week, but her classes act as a counterweight for the physicality of her dancing. "It’s nice to focus on something completely different," she said.

A new passion for politics

Buchanan’s first love has always been ballet, but in high school, she enjoyed AP classes and always planned to attend college. When she felt secure enough in her career, she began to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

She enrolled at CU Denver in 2014, originally with an undeclared major. Her course load included challenging biology classes, where she "loved the labs," and poli-sci electives like a "War in Film" course that taught her how interconnected the world is.

Morgan Buchanan (Photo by Francisco Estevez)

Morgan Buchanan (Photo by Francisco Estevez)

"At first, I wasn’t sure what to focus on because ballet had been my only passion for so long," Buchanan said. "But my poli-sci classes felt so relevant. While watching the news, I could see how policy shaped the world."

Buchanan takes all of her classes online to accommodate her dancing schedule, and she appreciates the effort her professors make to explain the real-world relevance of their course work. "Lucy McGuffey, who taught the 'War in Film' course, made the material approachable," Buchanan said. "She made students care and taught us that what we were learning was important."

Declaring a Political Science major opened up new doors for Buchanan. She interned at the state Capitol for a lobbyist and received credit toward her degree through the CU at the Capitol program. Her internship brought the political process to life and showed her another potential career path.

From 'War in Film' to drama on stage

Buchanan has been inspired by the energy of ballet since a young age. Even as a child, she loved performing and bringing different characters to life. On stage, she transforms into an athlete and a performer; the joy of dancing combines with the theatrics of whichever role she is playing.

"You put so much work into each performance—they are all important," Buchanan said. But some roles are more fun than others. "In Peter Pan, I was rigged up to a flight harness, and I got to fly across the stage."

She cites Wendy in Peter Pan as the most enjoyable role she’s played since arriving in Denver in 2009 to apprentice with the studio company of the Colorado Ballet. She joined the company as a dancer in 2011 and rose to soloist in 2016.

Through her work with the Colorado Ballet, she has also connected with local communities and schools throughout the world. The education department of the company regularly reaches out to public and private institutions to give performances and bring dance into schools.

Making an impact in multiple fields

Now that Buchanan is confident enough in her abilities as a dancer to explore other passions, she is seeing the payoff of a multifaceted life and education. Her CU Denver career and professional life complement each other; they both demand excellence.

She is thrilled with her success at the Colorado Ballet, and plans to continue with the company. When it is time to retire from dancing, though, she knows her education will provide her with a new path.

"I enjoyed speaking with legislators during my internship," she said. "I want my work to have an impact in the world, whether I’m dancing or in politics."