Thomas Ragland Shines Upstage and Downtown
Only 21 years old, Thomas Ragland has already been dancing eighteen years. Currently enjoying his first year as a company member with Richmond Ballet, doctor the young artist believes if he’d not discovered ballet, he’d be an elementary school math teacher. In his young career, he’s wowed audiences for his performances in “Sleeping Beauty,” “Y Por Ti,” and others. Ragland’s affable energy and fluid interest in things timeless as well as trendy make clear why those who know him, have plenty to say about the man originally from North Avenue.
But Thomas tells his story best.
“Richmond, Born and Raised”
I grew up in the Northside with my mother and my brother. She was a single parent, so she was a good role model to me. She always encouraged me to keep dancing. [She said,] ‘Don’t worry about what anybody says, just keep going.’ She was always there supporting me day after day. I know it was hard. She had to get off work to take me here [Richmond Ballet], but she did it out of love. And [she was] there for my brother too, while he was playing sports.
I saw a ballet on TV one day. I said, ‘Oh, mom, I really like this. Put me in class!’ I started dancing ever since then. When I saw that performance on TV, I just wanted to do it. When I went to class, I was the only guy too, so I had all the girls around me. It just kept me there. I could feel that this is what I really wanted to do. In middle school, I did sports, like flag football and basketball. When I got in high school, I did the marching band. I went to John Marshall High School my freshman and sophomore year. Then I transferred to Henrico High School my junior and senior year. Toward high school, my mom thought I was going to stop [dancing] because you know, it’s high school. I kept going at it.
On the Move
I got involved with Richmond Ballet in 1999. My dance teacher from Pine Camp, Annette Holt, she suggested that I come over here. I took a class and [they] wanted me to come back the next day. They brought a girl in, and I did a little partnering with her. I think I was 13 going on 14. Then they called me and said, ‘We want you to be our Nutcracker prince.’ I was really happy, but surprised at the same time too, because it was basically my first day there. So that was really lucky.
It was weird because the year before, we went to see the Nutcracker, and my mom was like, ‘Oh, Thomas, you can be one of those kids and sit on the floor.’ And then the next year, I was in it. [But] I was not sitting. I was dancing.
I stayed with Richmond Ballet growing up in school. But I also did dance competitions with Pine Camp Recreation Department with Annette and Rodney Williams. I saw a [Julliard] brochure here at the Ballet. It was my last year in school in 2004. I did an audition tape, and they wanted me to come in. So I did three weeks of dance in New York. That was amazing. The kids that went to Juilliard talked about how Juilliard is really good, how it really helped with dancing, academics, and everything. I felt like I was at home there.
Home, Sweat Home
When I was in training, I took company classes. It gave me experience in how the company works. I was taking company classes and training classes. That helped me a lot with my technique. I got to perform with the apprentice show. Then after that, that’s when Stoner [Winslett, Artistic Director] wanted me to become apprentice with the company. So I did two years with apprentice and then after apprentice, she offered me a company spot. I feel comfortable knowing that this is a mixed company. I feel welcome here every day.
My role model is actually [Resident Artist] Igor Antonov. To me, he’s just amazing. When I first met him, the way he just moved. He’s in the company but he still works with the company members too. He’s older, so he’s just a big inspiration to me.
I always wanted to be Snow King in the Nutcracker. The music is just so beautiful. The pas de deux is just excellent. In Sleeping Beauty, I would like to be the Prince. I was the cat [Puss-N-Boots] when we did Sleeping Beauty, so I love that role. I wouldn’t mind doing that forever. You really have a story line in classical work. I like contemporary ballets too, but I guess I like classical ballet more because they tell a story.
I’m a fun person, really energetic. If someone needs help, I’m always there to help them. I love to go to the movies and shop and talk on the phone. I like to do a lot of activities out from the ballet, you know, just to have a life. I love R&B, hip hop, country, rock, pop. I love Alicia Keys, and rapper Ludacris. I think when I hear music, I’m just up and ready to dance.