Creation Story: Thomas Ragland 

Dancer

Holt recommended that Ragland audition at Richmond Ballet, where he was cast as the Prince in "The Nutcracker" and has studied and danced in many subsequent productions. "He could make a name in the dance world," says Judy Jacob, artistic associate with the Richmond Ballet and director of its school. "He is very talented and youthful, and now he's on a level to take classes with the company and understand the roles. I think that he could go far."

How competitions with the City Dance Troupe have brought him recognition: Ragland was first runner-up for Dancer of the Year in a recent national Dance America competition. His first piece of choreography, a modern solo to the song "I Give You Praise," won first place in the regionals. "It was praising the Lord so I had a lot of emotion," he says. Ragland also won firsts in ballet duet and modern duet, and received a congeniality award, unusual for a male student.

Why a summer intensive dance program at Juilliard encouraged him to continue: Ragland says his experience in New York in July was eye-opening. "It was intense and fun at the same time. We had a ballroom class, a modern class, a music class to learn how to count the music, classical partnering. … We danced all day long and had rehearsals at night. And then, we ordered pizza at three in the morning," he laughs, recalling the close camaraderie that developed among the selective program's dancers.

What his ambitions include: The 17-year-old Ragland hopes to become a member of a professional ballet company and a choreographer. "I would like to have my own studio and teach young children and teens ballet, modern, jazz and tap," he says. Perhaps this will include a move to New York, he says, "but I don't know yet." His mother, Irma Ragland, works long hours to support his ambition and credits her son with staying on track. "It's his passion," she says. "He's met people who see his talent, and he hangs in there, working hard."

Why it all comes down to money: Although Juilliard accepted Ragland to its freshman class from an international field of 500 applicants narrowed down to a dozen females and a dozen males, the school's tuition is beyond the means of his single-parent family. Holt and others are seeking scholarships and sponsorships for Ragland, and he is working while continuing his dance training and hopes to be able to enroll in the spring or as soon as he can raise the money. "They want to help you and look at you," he says of the people at Juilliard, "and when they see that you have potential, they want to work with you. It feels good." — Deveron Timberlake



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