He’s spent countless hours watching ballet videos, memorizing choreography and training in the studios at Kingsport Ballet, a place he considers his second home. Now, all his hard work is paying off in a big way.
Barnes was recently accepted to HARID Conservatory, a prestigious, year-round ballet training school in Boca Raton, Florida. He will begin his freshman year there in a few days, joining just 34 students from around the world who were accepted to the school.
“I owe all of my gratitude to Kingsport Ballet for all that they’ve done for me,” Barnes said. “If it wasn’t for Kingsport Ballet, none of this would have been possible and I wouldn’t have gotten this incredible opportunity.”
Pursuing his passion
Barnes first became interested in ballet after watching his older sister, Olivia, pick up the art. He began training at Kingsport Ballet at age 4 and has been there ever since.
In addition to being accepted to HARID, Barnes has a string of other accomplishments under his belt. He won second place two consecutive years at the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and has received several scholarships for ballet intensives and offers from other prestigious year-round programs, such as Ballet West and Boston Ballet.
“We’re all very proud of Graham,” said Andy Barnes, Graham’s father. “Since the age of 4, he’s immersed himself in ballet. … It’s very rare to see someone at such a young age find their passion and work really, really hard to improve.”
A new chapter
Barnes plans to attend HARID for at least his freshman year, though he may decide to attend all four years. He said the school teaches the Russian method of ballet, which is what he learned at Kingsport Ballet.
While he is looking forward to his new journey, Barnes said it will be difficult to say goodbye to his friends and instructors at Kingsport Ballet.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Barnes said. “This has been the only ballet school that I’ve ever been at, and to leave, it’s like leaving your own family. … I consider this my home.”
And while his Kingsport Ballet family is genuinely supportive, Bertina Dew, executive director of Kingsport Ballet, said Barnes will be greatly missed.
“For us, it’s really hard to see him go, because he’s our boy,” Dew said. “It would be better for us to keep him, because he’s got several years of great performance potential that we could definitely use in our productions … but we have to support him in what’s best for his future.”
Chasing the dream
Beyond high school, Barnes said his ultimate goal is to become a principal ballet dancer, the highest-ranking dancer in a professional ballet company.
“You have to sacrifice a lot of stuff for this, but at the end of the day when you’re on that stage and everyone’s applauding, that’s when it’s worth it,” Barnes said. “That’s when you know, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”