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By Diane Parkes
The Birmingham Post
January 7, 2011
[Edited]

Diane Parkes talks to a budding young ballet dancer who is aiming for the top.

 

Every week little Thomas Edwards would peer through the glass and watch his two sisters in their ballet lessons. So when the teacher suggested he join the class, he thought he may as well give it a go.

At the time Thomas was just under three years old but that decision went on to change his life as the Worcester teenager is now a full time student at one of the UK’s most prestigious ballet schools and is aiming for the top.

Thomas, now aged 16, took his first steps with Harlequin Stage School in his home city and has been an ardent ballet fan ever since.And he still remembers those first lessons. “I used to be dragged along to go and wait for my sisters and I was standing outside when the principal invited me to take part,” he recalls. “And so I joined the classes and the principal then told my mum to get me some ballet shoes.”

And when his sisters, his twin Amy and older sister Emily, now 19, hung up their pointe shoes, Thomas carried on dancing. “I was the only boy in the class for about 14 years,” he says. “Just when I left another three boys started but up until then I had been the only one. It was good as it meant I always got the good lead roles for the duets but it would also have been good for there to be other boys.”

Thomas continued with Harlequin and was also a member of the Worcestershire-based Midland Musical Theatre Group. His dance commitments kept him busy.“I used to do swimming, football and dance but the dance gradually took over,” he says. “I danced every day apart from Tuesdays and Sundays and that would be for two or three hours each night. Then if we had festivals we would also be practising on Sundays.“We would do summer schools and put a big show on at the end of the summer. And we did a lot of competitions.”

So much of his youngest years were spent dancing that Thomas now has folders and folders of certificates and photographs of him appearing in countless guises.

And he also stepped out on the professional stage. “I was in a panto at the Swan Theatre in Worcester when I was Michael in Peter Pan,” he says. “And I also appeared in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker as one of the children when I was about seven. It was great to see how everything goes on behind stage and everyone was so nice to us.”

Thomas became a junior associate with the Royal Ballet, attending classes at Birmingham, and then became a mid associate. By the time he had progressed to senior associate he was travelling down to Covent Garden in London every Saturday for classes.

But, despite the huge time commitment given to dance, Thomas tended to keep quiet about his talent…

“Then when I came to finish school I did a performance for the end of year show and everyone said they hadn’t realised I was that good. That was because I had never really told anyone. I just used to keep quiet about it and get on with it. It was like I was in a bubble.”

Thomas may have been a young Billy Elliot but he was fortunate because his family were fully behind him. “My parents have always really supported me,” he says. “They used to take me to all of the festivals and always try to come and see me when I perform. I am sure my sisters have missed out a bit because of it.”

In his younger years Thomas was twice offered places by dance schools but the family could not afford the fees. Dad Ken, aged 52, is a hospital ambulance liaison officer at Worcester Royal Hospital and mum Jane, aged 51, is a nurse practitioner. But both were determined to support their son as much as they could. And when he was offered a place at Central School of Ballet in London they knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime.

With annual fees of more than £3,000 to meet the family have received some financial help but are having to dig deep to support their son. But they know the money is well spent as he is following his dreams.

Thomas admits to being nervous at the auditions, which saw 400 talented youngsters aiming for a place, but knew he had to show them his best. “I was fine going on the train but when you get there and you are about to start the audition you do get really nervous,” he says. “But you just have to do it and show them what you can do.”

Last autumn he began classes at Central – and finally had the chance to learn alongside other boys.“There are about 25 girls and 11 boys in our year,” he says. “It is really good as you can learn from the others and talk about what you are learning.

“At the beginning of the year we did two weeks of drama, music and dance which was a really good ice breaker. I knew a few of the others from auditions but most of us didn’t really know each other well.

“Then when we started the classes they said they would strip it back to basics so they could pick up any faults. They want to make sure we are technically perfect. A few people weren’t sure about that to begin with as they had been dancing for years but it has been really good as we have really improved a lot in a very short time. Even in a few weeks I can see the difference. For examples with pirouettes, which is one of the things I am good at, I could do four or five and can now do eight or nine.”

Thomas will study at Central for three years and will aim to leave with A-levels in dance and English as well as BA Hons Degree in Professional Dance.

One of the huge advantages of the school is that it will also give Thomas the chance to perform. “In the third year it is a touring company which goes across the UK so you get really good experience. It is one thing to have the technique but this also gives you the experience of performance and that really matters when you are auditioning to join a dance company.”

And the teenager is keeping his options open for the future. Central has seen graduates join countless internationally renowned companies including The Royal Ballet, Rambert, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre. “I would love to work for one of the big UK dance companies,” Thomas says. “If I had my absolute wish it would be to dance with Matthew Bourne’s company as I love his work and I love the idea of combining ballet with something a bit contemporary.”

And in an echo of the film Billy Elliot in which Billy gains the lead role in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Thomas adds wistfully “to be the lead in his Swan Lake, that would be the best.”

But Thomas, who has already notched up experience of pieces as diverse as Coppelia and Elite Syncopations, is keen to take on all the roles the ballet world has to offer. “I would love to be a principal and to have the chance to play the great romantic leads,” he says. “Something like Romeo and Juliet.”

In the meantime it is back to class this week for Thomas as school started at the turn of the New Year. His parents admit they miss him but are just happy that he is following his dream. “We have had to cut back a bit to send him there but it is worth it,” says Ken. “We are so proud of him. He has always worked very hard at it and we always feel proud when we see him on stage.”

 

© 2011 Trinity Mirror Midlands Limited. Birmingham Post™

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