Interlochen Online's next session begins May 6—enroll in any course or certificate program now.

From small-town studio to professional-quality performances: How Rowan Barber found the resources to succeed as a male dancer at Interlochen

As a male dancer growing up in a small town, Rowan Barber didn’t always have the resources he needed. At Interlochen, he found the cameraderie and specialized training he needed to reach his goals.

A dancer dressed in a blue jacket and white tights leaps into the air.

Rowan Barber leaps into the air as the Prince in The Nutcracker.

Rowan Barber is passionate about ballet, but, as a male dancer growing up in a small town, he didn’t always have the resources he needed. In some classes, he was only taught female variations. And when it came to performance, choreography for male roles was quite minimal.

“The dance studios that I went to wanted to have male dancers, but they didn't know how to teach men,” says Barber. “I never had any male technique classes. They didn't really know what to do with me.”

Barber knew he wanted more, and he found it at Interlochen. Here, the sophomore dance major shares why attending an arts boarding school has been such an impactful decision—providing him with camaraderie, specialized instruction, and meaningful performance opportunities.

Male-specific classes and a seasoned instructor

The summer before his freshman year of high school, Barber attended a one-week ballet intensive at Interlochen Arts Camp. Soon afterwards, he was offered admission to Arts Academy and decided to take the plunge. He felt the difference right away when he developed a sense of camaraderie with other male dancers.

“It's nice not being the only male in a program anymore, and having others that I can connect to and relate with,” he says. “It has helped me grow a lot to have these very talented guys to look up to and learn from and talk with.”

At Arts Academy, Barber was finally able to take male-specific classes which focus on developing virtuoso technique.  

“The jumps and turns have all really been coming together for me ever since I came here,” he says. “It really introduced me to a whole other world and really just broadened my experiences.”

Barber has appreciated the chance to work with Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey, a seasoned dancer with experience performing and judging competitions around the world.

“As a male dancer himself, he knows what it's like and knows how to teach us really well,” says Barber. “He teaches us really good technique, presence on the stage, and acting. He makes classes so much fun and inspires me to learn because he's very passionate and serious about dance. He's given me some of the best feedback that I've ever received and that's really helped me grow not only as a dancer but as a person as well.” 

The roles and the performances have been some of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and I'm so excited to have more.

Rowan Barber

Meaningful performance opportunities

In contrast to his junior high experience, Barber has found the performance opportunities at Interlochen to be incredibly valuable and rewarding. As a sophomore this year, he was able to portray the Prince in The Nutcracker.

“I think for high school dancers, Interlochen is arguably one of the best programs in the entire world, especially in terms of performance quality for ballet,” he says. “I love it when we have the live orchestra—it makes it feel so real, like I'm actually either a professional or in a career. Plus we have the set design, the professional staff, the costumes, and the choreography. It's all amazing. The roles and the performances have been some of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and I'm so excited to have more.”

A sacrifice that paid off

When asked whether he has advice to students who are considering coming to Arts Academy, Barber says coming to Interlochen was definitely a challenge—he had to leave behind family and friends, and take the risk of trying something new. But for him, it’s been worth it.

“I would say I think coming here was one of the biggest sacrifices of my life, but I think it was one of the best decisions that I've ever made,” he says. “The teachers are so invested in the men here and they want to grow us into the best people that we can be. And I think the memories you will make and the opportunities that you will have here are things you can’t get anywhere else.”

Learn more about Dance at Interlochen Arts Academy.