Why I Dance: Phillip Skaggs

February 13, 2011

Richmond Ballet dancer Phillip Skaggs can be charismatic, sexy, and rough around the edges in one ballet, and lyrical and polished in the next. But always he exudes a full-out, fearless energy onstage.

Growing up in Louisville, KY, he played basketball, football, and did gymnastics before attending the local Youth Performing Arts School. After graduating in 1996 he moved to Connecticut to train with the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory for the Arts. He briefly danced with Hartford Ballet under the direction of Kirk Peterson and joined Richmond Ballet in 1999. In the last 12 years with RB he has performed a wide variety of roles, favorites being Apollo in Balanchine’s
Apollo, Adam in John Butler’s After Eden, and Tybalt in Malcolm Burn’s Romeo and Juliet. Skaggs, who has also performed in summer stock musicals, has recently enjoyed working with guest choreographers Ma Cong, Jessica Lang, and Val Caniparoli. He’s married to Katherine Lynch Skaggs, a faculty member at RB’s school whom he met when she was in the company.


Strangulation from a scarf may be the strangest way I have “died” onstage, but it is not the only way. I have been run through with a sword, I have fallen from a tightrope, and I have been thrown from a cliff. Once, I even died from a kiss!


I love playing character roles that I can really get into. I love it when I stop acting the part and just become that character. Reacting as that character would, whether it’s laughing, crying, or finding a new moment in old choreography, makes me fall in love with dance all over again.

One of my favorite things to do in a theater is to sit on the edge of the stage before anyone shows up and listen to the silence of all those who have danced before me. This is my church.


Without physical exertion, I think I would go crazy. I secretly enjoy muscle fatigue—extreme muscle fatigue, to the point where I feel that I cannot go on. And then I do! The human body is amazing—the way it keeps going, even when our natural tendency is to be lazy.


Sharing the stage with my partner during a pas de deux is what I live for. I love the trust between partners, the trust that you will cover each other. And I love the shared looks that appear to be true love to anyone watching who doesn’t know otherwise. It’s all very romantic. Ballet may be the last place on earth where chivalry still exists. A man can be a man, and a woman can simply be a woman. If men had to wear pointe shoes, I myself could not be a ballet dancer. To me, dancing on pointe is proof positive that women are the stronger sex.


For me, sick days are out of the question. I like to think that the show won’t go on without me. The harsh truth, though, is that I don’t take sick days because I know it will.


I am a calculated-risk junkie. I enjoy the thrill of knowing that everything could hit the fan—that is, as long as there’s little-to-no chance of injury/death. For example, I love complicated lifts that may be going horribly wrong five minutes before a show and then, in the precise moment, are executed flawlessly.


It is through dance that I have found the best possible friends in the world, and it is through dance that I met my beautiful wife. I have traveled extensively, all the while doing what I love. And I do worry, each time the curtain closes, that each performance may have been my last.


The ballet world is truly bizarre! There are so many different personalities, and so many different rituals that we practice every day. In my opinion, all dancers are just a little bit crazy, but it’s my kind of crazy and I like it!


Why do I dance? I dance because it feels right, and good. And I do believe that dance makes the world a better place. Our mission at Richmond Ballet is “to awaken and to uplift the human spirit,” a noble cause worth fighting for. 



Phillip Skaggs in
Bow Out by Val Caniparoli. Photo by Suzanne Grandis, courtesy RB