Richard Thomas (1925–2013)

August 8, 2013

Richard Thomas in 1949
Courtesy of Edith Brozak McMann


Richard Thomas, a dedicated ballet teacher and former dancer with New York City Ballet, died in Paintsville, Kentucky on July 27 at the age of 87. Known for his bone-dry humor, as well as his fleet feet while dispensing lightning-speed combinations, Thomas founded the New York School of Ballet in 1958 with his wife, Barbara Fallis. Their school was soon housed in the former School of American Ballet studios with their high ceilings and spacious windows, where Balanchine had choreographed Agon and other masterworks. Thomas taught dance notables like Cynthia Gregory, Christine Sarry, Eliot Feld, Twyla Tharp, and Sean Lavery in his daily ballet classes.


Thomas was born and raised in Kentucky, but his interest in ballet began while attending a performance of the Ballet Russe in Seattle. He studied with Bronislava Nijinska in Los Angeles and Vincenzo Celli in New York. After dancing with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and Ballet Theatre, he married Fallis, and they both joined Alicia Alonso’s troupe in Cuba in the early 1950s. From 1953-1958, they danced with New York City Ballet. Thomas performed in the premiere casts of Todd Bolender’s Souvenirs, Balanchine’s Jeux d’Enfants and Jerome Robbins’s The Concert (or The Perils of Everybody).


Thomas with Rosie Ricci at Thomas/Fallis Studios
Courtesy Daniel Levins


At the New York School of Ballet, located at Broadway and 82nd Street on the Upper West Side, Thomas’s approach to teaching ballet emphasized the connection of the cerebral to the physical. On a second’s notice, he would command students to reverse a combination, requiring nimble minds. After Fallis died in 1980, Thomas continued running the school until it was forced out to make room for a Barnes and Noble store in the early 1990s.


In addition to his daughter, the dancer Bronwyn Thomas, and son Richard Thomas, the actor celebrated for his work on Broadway and on the television series The Waltons, Thomas is survived by 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.


Richard Thomas with Barbara Fallis circa 1950
Courtesy Daniel Levins


A joint statement from Feld, Sarry and the teacher/choreographer Daniel Levins, says: “The ripples from his kindness, wisdom, sensibility and wit endure. So too, his divine lickety-split petit allegros, even his excesses, which were excessive, his passion for dancing and dancers, and his knowledge of ballet technique combined with this intellect and his gift for cajolery to impart the lesson to we who were eager, so eager. He lives forever within us.” —Joseph Carman