Find Your Passion: The Dancing Doctor in the Making
By Sarah Colwell
Most people have a distinct preference for one type of thinking: they are left-brained, excelling in subjects such as the sciences or mathematics; or they are right-brained, flourishing in the creative arts of such subjects as writing or theater. Frank Barber, a senior double major in dance and biology at The University of Alabama, commands both.
“At The University of Alabama I had the option to get two degrees and because of my dad’s disabled veteran benefits, my education was paid for. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity,” Barber said. “So I thought, if I love dance, I need to go for it; if I love medicine, I need to go for it. So that’s what I am doing.”
Barber started dancing at the age of 10, motivated by his older sister who danced and who he looked up to.
“I used to sit and watch her practice. I did that for two years until one day when the dance instructor threw a shiny pair of black shoes at me,” Barber said, his eyes lighting up looking down at his hands as if he was holding that pair of dance shoes for the first time, all over again. “I remember them. They reminded me of Gregory Hines. And from then on, I was gone!”
Barber said as a young child he would tap dance around his house for hours, so much so that he wore down the bathroom floors. He didn’t let the fact that he was the only male dancer at the dance school in his hometown of Phoenix City, Ala., deter him. At the age of 12, only two years after he started tap dancing, Barber won the top Platinum Award from the Starpower Regional competition in Atlanta, Ga., for a solo performance.
At UA Barber has danced and choreographed numerous productions for the Department of Theatre and Dance including “Light,” a contemporary piece that is featured on the Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre 2009 Spring Concert poster; and “The Big Bang Theory,” which incorporated Barber’s dual loves of science and dance, and was nominated for the AL’s Art Award, which recognizes exceptional accomplishments in the arts at UA.
Barber’s interest in medicine began at an early age, growing up around several sick family members.
“I watched diseases progress and when someone passed away I felt left out, like I could have done something more to help or make them better,” he said. “I liked science and being a doctor is a profession that would allow me to help people.”
His interest flourished in high school where he joined an elite academic program, called Health Care Academy, which was geared toward students who were interested in pursuing a profession in medicine.
Although he is passionate about these two areas of study, managing the schedules of two demanding majors is not always easy. Even thinking about Barber’s physically and mentally demanding daily routine is enough to exhaust most people.
Barber’s typical day starts at 3 a.m. when he starts his shift working at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Tuscaloosa. He works there until his first class begins at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. He is in class until about 4 p.m., but in between that time he has a two-to-three-hour dance practice. Following class he attends meetings for either the department of theatre and dance, Alpha Psi Omega, the Afro-American Gospel Choir, the College of Arts and Sciences Ambassador’s program, or Parker-Adams Capstone Living Learning Community where he is a fellow. In between, Barber find times to eat, sleep, study and do homework. His day usually ends around 11 p.m.
“It doesn’t matter how much is on his plate, Frank has always got a great attitude and a smile on his face. He’s unbelievable,” said Dr. Bob Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Barber learned the time management skills needed to handle such a demanding schedule from helping his family work their pig farm while he was going to school full-time and working a part-time job as a teenager.
“I’d get up at 5 a.m. and help with the hogs, then go to school and then go to work from about 3 p.m. to 10 or 11 p.m.,” Barber said. “I needed to pay for a car, and I had to help my mom pay the bills.”
His college experience was made even more difficult early on with the death of his father during the fall of his freshmen year. Barber said he was able to get through that challenging point in his life thanks to the support of his family and the faculty and administrators at the University, including Dean Olin; Dr. Anne Webb, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences; the community of Parker-Adams; and Dr. Kim Caldwell, assistant professor in the department of biological sciences.
But through it all, Barber has done extremely well at UA. Despite having to take more than 130 credits to complete his core classes and two majors, Barber is on schedule to graduate in four years having a current 3.3 GPA.
“I know my purpose, and I want to succeed in life. Even if it’s difficult, I know that if I work hard and follow through with things, it’s going to pay off,” Barber said. “I want to inspire other people and to tell them to go for their dreams.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.