Like millions of daughters over the decades, 2-year-old Katherine Barkman told her parents she wanted to be a ballerina. Her mom said studios don’t take 2-year-olds; she’d have to wait until she was 3.
“On my third birthday, I asked my mom if she’d signed me up for ballet, and then got mad that she hadn’t,” says Katherine, who is now 17 and on her way to the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition, June 14-29 in Jackson, Miss.
Leaping out of the Dance Elite Studio in Horsham, PA., Katherine is in elite company: She’s one of 48 juniors ages 15 to 18, and the only person from the greater Philadelphia area, to be competing in the USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) this June in Jackson, MS. Only 109 dancers from around the world have been invited to compete. The competition is an “Olympic-style” event held every four years since 1979. At IBC, dancers vie for medals, cash awards, scholarships and contracts with professional dance companies. The USA IBC is the official ballet competition of the United States by a Joint Resolution of Congress.
“Dancers invited to compete in the USA IBC know they have a chance to test their skills against the highest international standards,” said Sue Lobrano, USA IBC executive director. “The level of artistry and technique that this group of competitors will bring to the USA IBC stage will certainly be thrilling to watch.” “The USA IBC is synonymous with the discovery of new talents and the launching of careers,” says Lobrano.
Of the 99 scheduled to attend, 57 are senior competitors (ages 19-26) and 42 are juniors (ages 15-18). The United States leads in the number of participants (31), followed by Japan (17) and Brazil (9Katherine is in the junior group at 17 years of age.
“She has incredible ability to perform, which is pretty rare,” says her teacher, Nadia Pavlenko, who was trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, and knows a thing or two about international competition (she was a finalist in the 1991 International Ballet Competition in Helsinki, Finland). Pavlenko was also a soloist at the K.S. Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater in Moscow.
Mom Darlene Barkman, a Family Consultant at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – who confirmed with a laugh that Katherine did indeed demand to be enrolled in a dance studio as soon as she turned 3 – said she had no particular childhood interest in dance. Peter Barkman, Vice President of Franchise Development for CertaPro Painters, said he and his brothers grew up playing sports.
“It was kind of a freak thing,” Katherine says. “Neither of my parents danced; there was nothing around me about the art form. I just got this obsession about being a ballerina.”
That obsession comes at a price.
In September 2013, after convincing her parents that it was the right thing to do for her professional ambitions, Katherine began training five to six hours daily, and switched to home-schooling. That regimen means she’s sacrificed the usual high school activities like going to football games or junior proms. Instead, she dances and rehearses all day, does nightly schoolwork, researches ballet history, and visits a massage therapist in Philadelphia weekly to handle and prevent injuries. “My wife and I struggled initially with the idea of Katherine taking such a non-traditional path, but her drive and passion has always been unshakeable, when it comes to dance,” says Katherine’s dad.
Katherine began training in the Vaganova style at age 14 – late by traditional standards, Pavlenko says, adding her student’s willingness to do the work required to excel is what made Katherine stand out.
“Katherine said she wants to dance, dance more than anything in her life.” Pavlenko says. “We said you have to do that full-time during the day and switch to home schooling at night. She said ‘Okay, if that’s what it takes to be a professional dancer’.”
”I get a lot of satisfaction in seeing improvement in my work even though it is often a struggle,” she says. “It takes a lot of patience…and a whole lot of tenacity to chase this dream of mine.” When asked about her next act, Katherine says she is keeping all of her options open. “My dream is to join a ballet company and travel the world sharing my art” but the USA IBC beckons first.”