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Prep Zone: Ballerina Payton Thompson dances her way from Snohomish to Harvard

Like most high school seniors, Glacier Peak's Payton Thompson didn't have a typical year. But now she's looking forward to attending Harvard in the fall.

Many consider ballet an art, not a sport, but those that dance in ballet are some of the best athletes in the world. Jerry Rice, Lynn Swann, and Herschel Walker are just a few of the NFL players that did ballet to get better at football.

In this week’s Prep Zone, KING 5's Chris Egan travels to Snohomish to track down one of the top rising ballet dancers in the country.

Glacier Peak High School senior Payton Thompson is used to dancing in big halls and lavish studios, but now -- due to the coronavirus pandemic -- she does most of her ballet practice in the family’s garage. 

Payton started dancing before she was two and it didn’t take her long to fall in love with ballet.

“I had always watched videos of dancers and the ballerinas and the tutus and the pointe shoes, and I always aspired to be that. So I think that kept me driven from an early age. I loved like the precision of it and having to get every step perfect, while also being artistically beautiful at the same time,” she said. 

Payton quickly rose up the dancing ranks.

“In ballet, you have to be so precise with your positions there's no wiggle room for any mistakes," she explained. "You have to be perfectly turned out, perfectly straight legs, and it's hard to make sure everything's precise. We're always constantly working to get better and better because you're never going to get perfect."

In 2017, Payton was invited to train in the professional division of the International Ballet Academy. 

“When I made that decision to join the professional division, I was really devoting my whole life over to ballet, almost, which was intimidating. But it was so exciting because I had seen the students that had been in that group before me and how well they had progressed in their training."

Instead of her usual studio, Payton now practices while her three younger brothers play basketball just outside the garage. 

But she is no stranger to the stage. Over the past few years, Payton has starred in more than two dozen major performances, including the Nutcracker.

"Performing is one of my most favorite things to do, it's just so exhilarating to be on the stage and, you know, transport the audience to a new place. I think that's a really special part of ballet that doesn't come with many other sports."

Despite training at least 35 hours a week, Payton made the decision to stay at Glacier Peak High School. A majority of dancers training at Payton’s level choose to do their learning on-line.  

“Just having that high school experience is something that I think really helps you grow as a person," she said. 

Payton was a class officer, and she’ll graduate with a 4.0 GPA. So what about her future plans? 

“I had applied out on a limb because it had always been my dream. And I thought if I never tried, then I'll never know."

So she tried -- and Payton was indeed accepted to Harvard University. 

“My parents were freaking out and I started freaking out and it was just so exciting and so much joy,” she explained. 

While her mom and dad are both Washington State Cougars, they are thrilled for Payton to follow her dreams to Cambridge.

For now, Payton will train on a scholarship with Ballet West in Salt Lake City and begin a 5-week training session next week. 

Then the whole family will be cheering on her Crimson dance dreams from Harvard to Snohomish. 

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