Obituary: Atlanta dance and arts icon Ginger Rich Barnett dies at age 82

Ginger Barnett with her husband Robert (left) and George Balanchine. (Photo courtesy Atlanta Ballet)
Ginger Barnett with her husband Robert (left) and George Balanchine. (Photo courtesy Atlanta Ballet)

Virginia “Ginger” Rich Barnett, a major force in Atlanta’s dance and arts communities for decades, died in Asheville, North Carolina, last Saturday at the age of 82 after a bout with cancer.

Barnett was the youngest daughter of Richard and Virginia Rich of Rich’s Department Store. Her husband, Robert J. Barnett, was the former artistic director of Atlanta Ballet.

After her retirement, Barnett helped train new generations of dancers.
After her retirement, Barnett helped train new generations of dancers.

Ginger Barnett trained at the Atlanta School of Ballet under founder Dorothy Alexander, and also at the Royal Ballet School in London and the School of American Ballet in New York City. She joined the New York City Ballet, working under the direction of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. She later returned to her hometown to become a principal dancer at Atlanta Ballet, as well as associate director.

She later teamed with Carl Ratcliff and Teena Stern to found the Carl Ratcliff Dance Theatre, the first modern dance company in the Southeast. She remained there until 1994 and also taught at the Atlanta School of Ballet.

Atlanta Ballet company dancer Christian Clark studied with Barnett as a child. “It was a true gift and a magical time to be in the studio with Bobby and Ginger as a student and as a professional dancer,” Clark said in a Facebook post.

She served on the dance panel for the Georgia Council for the Arts, and also the Fulton County Arts Council and Atlanta’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs. In 1975, the American Association of University Women presented Barnett with an Outstanding Leadership Award and in 1984 she received the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Arts honoring her contributions to the art of dance.

Atlanta Ballet has posted a full obituary and memorial page for Ginger Barnett.

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