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Barrow invited to Philly school

If Kate Barrow were competing to share the most interesting “what I did on summer vacation” story, no doubt she’d win.

Barrow, the 13-year-old daughter of Nan and Jason Barrow, has danced her summer away. And while that may sound like a typical teen-aged pastime, hers has not been the typical teen-aged experience.

Kate with her friend Blane Mader of Louisiana. She bumped into him unexpectedly when she went to a class at STEPS in New York City.

Barrow has spent her summer studying classical ballet at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. When she auditioned in Mobile for her summer intensive scholarship to the Rock, she was placed in Level 4X training, an unusually high level for a 13-year-old dancer. After four days of training at the Rock, she was advanced to Level 5/6, the highest level in the program composed of advanced, professional and the Rock’s RAPA (Rock Academic Program Alliance) year-round dancers, ages 16 to 24.

While most summer students live in the camp-like atmosphere of the Rock’s summer housing program, Barrow opted to stay in an apartment with her mother instead.

“I want to train and focus on getting the most out of the program that I can,” she said. “I need to be completely focused on ballet and not be distracted.”

It is a strategy she learned back home at the Andalusia Ballet from artistic director Meryane Murphy.

“Mrs. Murphy has taught me that every class should be considered an important training opportunity,” Barrow said.

Classes at the Rock are very challenging, she said, but also interesting.

“The most interesting thing I have done this summer would have to be the partnering (pas de deux classes) at the Rock school,” she said. “Because I am dancing with so many professionals and other high level dancers, the moves we do are so intricate and difficult- it is challenging and absolutely so fun!”

Barrow’s hard work and focus appear to have paid off.

Bo and Stephanie Spassoff, directors of the Rock school, commented that “Kate is one of the hardest, if not THE hardest-working students we have at the Rock this summer.”

Recently, with two weeks remaining in the summer intensive program, Kate and her mother were asked to meet with the school’s directors, who offered her a full tuition merit scholarship to the year-round RAPA residency program and a 75 percent housing scholarship. RAPA offers dual preparation for artistic careers and higher education. Students move forward at a pace suited to their individual abilities and can earn both high school and college credits.

It’s a huge step for a 13-year-old, but both Barrow and her Andalusia teacher think she’s ready.

“Mrs. Murphy, my mom and I had discussed the fact that I would someday have to go off to a residency school to train,” she said. This was her third summer intensive program at the Rock, and she studied at the Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C., the summers she was 10 and 11.

Barrow was 8 when she first began dancing with the Andalusia Ballet.

“Kate is talented, driven, unafraid of work and committed to the art form,” Murphy said. “I am so proud of her. This scholarship to the Rock school is both an honor and a wonderful opportunity for her to further her training. Her family is trying very hard to make this happen financially for her.

“Although I will be sad to see her go, I pray that she will have this chance to pursue her dream. I think it is time and she is ready.”

Barrow explained that RAPA year-round students live in the Marine Club, which is across the street from the Rock school.

“Two students share a studio apartment,” she said. “They have a kitchen, and their own bath and washer dryer!

“IF I get to come year-round, I will get to room with my friend from Savannah, Ga., Alston MaGill, which is kind of funny because we were roommates at my first Rock Summer Intensive in 2006 when we were both 9!”

The school accepts only about 30 residency students, who are required to live by strict rules.

“Since there are so few dancers who are accepted, they are all very close and very much like a family,” Barrow said. “They have two resident advisers who live at the Marine Club with the students full time.”

In the meanwhile, Barrow’s left a bit of time in her summer schedule for fun.

“We are on a really strict budget, but my mom and I have found things that we could do, and we have done them,” she said. “Philadelphia is the most amazing city to explore. On my day off, Sundays, we drive downtown and sightsee at the historical sights. I home school so everything is an educational opportunity for my mom!”

She said she’s “hooked” on museums and has grown particularly fond of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“On Fridays, my mom comes by the Rock at lunch time, and we drive six blocks to the Italian Market, which is famous because Rocky ran through it in the movies,” she said. “We buy all of our produce for the week from street vendors. The prices there are much cheaper than the grocery store so I can get ALL my favorites!”

Word of her Friday lunches must have gotten around. Faculty and fellow students have started calling her “Rocky” because of her determination and love for Philadelphia and Rocky Balboa movies.

“After we buy our produce we walk to Lorenzo Pizza and we get a ‘slice’ and a Diet Coke and sit outside and have lunch! The pizza is so big here you have to fold it to eat it!”

After lunch, the two walk to Isgro’s Italian Bakery, where they usually split an éclair.

“Mom takes me back to the Rock, and I dance off the pizza and the éclair,” Barrow said.

They also took a weekend trip to New York City. A friend there gave them tickets to the American Ballet Theater, where they saw some of the most famous people in ballet were performing.

The next day, she took at clas at STEPS on Broadway with Edward Ellison.

All in all, Barrow said she feels very fortunate.

“There are so many people in Andalusia who support me and my dream of dancing professionally, and I want to thank them for it; whether they helped me with my fundraising for my pointe shoes, or support me through kind words, or like Mrs. Murphy who teaches me and who is always there for me; I would not be in Philadelphia this summer with out their help! I really feel blessed!”

Kate Barrow works with the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia director Stephanie Spassoff . | Courtesy photo