Dancing through degrees: Ballerina graduates from UAB with aspirations to advance philosophy and art education

Academics and dance have a lot in common: Kendall Baker brought her interests and passions together to earn two degrees while performing with the Alabama Ballet.

Kendall Baker IMG 1Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-TurnerKendall Baker believes, when it is hard to communicate our shared and individual experiences, art gives the platform for expression.

Baker is a ballerina and a University of Alabama at Birmingham student graduating April 26 with a Master of Public Administration degree from the College of Arts and Sciences

Becoming a dancer was not by chance for Baker, a native of Stuart, Florida. Her parents enrolled her in a ballet class with her best friend when she was a toddler. She has not stopped dancing since then and has come to love ballet: She turned it into a full-time career at the Alabama Ballet while pursuing her education at UAB with academic excellence.

Dancing to Birmingham

Baker has been committed to her dreams of becoming a ballerina since she was 13 years old and moved to Tampa, Florida, to avail a professional training opportunity in ballet. To hone her craft further, she spent summers during high school doing intensive training in Seattle and New York. When she was 16 years old, she moved to Seattle to dance full time as a professional division student at Pacific Northwest Ballet. This was the last step before she could pursue ballet professionally.

After finishing her training in Seattle, Baker started auditioning for professional companies, a demanding process requiring her to send videos of herself dancing in hopes of a response. After filling out dozens of applications and many auditions, in winter 2020 she finally received an offer from Alabama Ballet. 

Despite the rigor of the training, Baker is proud of her decisiveness at an early age and dedication to her dreams, which have led her to a successful career at Alabama Ballet.

“I have danced for so long that it has become a part of me. It is who I am. It is hard to separate me from ballet. It is my life,” Baker said. 


“You have to go all-in really young if you want to do ballet because of the intense training it takes,” Baker said. “It is hard to make a career in ballet because more people want to pursue it than there are jobs. It takes a lot of resilience and persistence to stay committed to it because, when you are in it, it’s hard to see the bigger picture of your dreams’ becoming a reality.”

Baker looks back with pride and says all the hard work and hours of training have been worth it. She credits her parents’ bravery to send their daughter in her early teenage years to live independently so she could pursue her dreams of dancing. 

“Sending a 13-year-old to live on their own can be scary, but my parents took a leap of faith that has helped me build a career for myself,” Baker said. “If it were not for their invaluable support, I would not be here; they still fly to Birmingham to see my shows.”

Kendall Baker IMG 2Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-TurnerMastering education

Baker always placed a heavy emphasis on her education, and after her acceptance into the Alabama Ballet, she found UAB when she was exploring nearby college opportunities. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and political science in August 2023 and has stayed out of fondness for education, philosophy, art and dance. 

“It took me two classes to decide my major in philosophy: one on moral progress with Dr. Josh May, and another one on guilt with Dr. Matt King,” Baker said. “Just sitting in a room with people passionate about the same topics as I was and hearing a variety of perspectives about different philosophical issues was so fascinating and fun. The exchange of ideas was really rewarding –– the reason I want to study philosophy for life.” 

Baker developed an interest in learning about the nonprofit world through her exposure to ballet, leading her to pursue the Accelerated Bachelors Master’s Program in public administration. She will walk across the stage with a Master of Public Administration degree in the university’s ceremony for graduate students.


“The professors I have worked with during both my degrees have been extremely understanding of my dance schedules and have supported me by talking through how to approach my doctoral school applications and helping me refine my writing samples,” Baker said. “It definitely takes a village to succeed.”

Convergence of Baker’s passions: philosophy and dance

Kendall Baker Img 3Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-TurnerWhile the intersection between philosophy, public administration and dance may not be apparent, Baker finds they are related.

“Dance and philosophy, to me, are complementary in a surprising way,” Baker said. “Philosophy has given me a framework for pondering questions about art and artists and exploring how power dynamics come into play within organizations, and public administration has helped show how ballet organizations function and the way arts are funded and treated.”

Studying the philosophy of art and tangibly applying it to her ballet experience have made her dancing and education meaningful, she says. 

“Like ballet, which requires intense training and long hours, academics is the same way,” Baker said. “For example, I may be writing a paper and think, how do I phrase this, how do I find this information, and how do I best present my thoughts? But when it all comes together and I finally see the finished product, there is pure joy and satisfaction in saying: I did that. I wrote that. I performed that.”

These intricate parallels Baker found in her educational and career interests have helped relieve the burdens of two full-time roles: a ballerina and a student. 

“I do ballet full time from 9-5,” Baker said. “The flexibility of classes that I have been able to take at UAB with most MPA classes offered in the evening have helped me simultaneously pursue both my passions –– dancing and education.”

Regardless of time management challenges, Baker diligently maintained a perfect GPA through both her degrees at UAB. 

“Some days I was on campus from 5-10 p.m. after a full day of work,” Baker said. “But I absolutely love what I do academically and professionally, and that has been my drive. All the hours I put into my studies and dancing have been worth it.”

Kendall Baker IMG 4Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-TurnerBaker’s future plans: doctorate and beyond

During her education at UAB, Baker has learned the power of art and its profound impact on quality of life. Therefore, she has committed herself to promoting art education while also pursuing a doctoral degree in philosophy.

“In my MPA classes, I looked into the tangible benefits of art education by reading studies correlating increased civic engagement, higher test scores, improved graduation rates and higher college enrollment rates to children having access to art education during their K-12 years,” Baker said. “And that is why I want to work on increasing art exposure and making art education more accessible.”

After graduation, Baker will pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I’m so proud of her,” Josh May, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Philosophy, said. “Kendall has put in tremendous work to produce a creative and compelling writing sample about how to promote social justice in diverse organizations. Already researching and writing like a Ph.D. student, she’ll hit the ground running — no doubt gracefully.”

She believes that art is for everyone. As a long-term goal, she hopes to teach philosophy and promote art education to people of all socio-economic backgrounds, mitigating the association of art with elitism.

“Studying ethics taught me the importance of making small, incremental changes,” Baker said. “I can now see the value of making small things better, even if it is for only one person.”