Written by Communications Intern: Emma Rubin
David Thurmond’s career trajectory has certainly not followed the path of the ordinary professional dancer. He spent his high school years as the front man for a rock band, played all state basketball during his time at Bellarmine University, and did not officially dance until he accidentally stepped into a studio at 22 years old.
Now, Thurmond recognizes the almost miraculous nature of his career. Today, most male ballet dancers enter training at 7-11 years old and undergo almost a decade of instruction before working professionally. While male dancers were far less common at the start of Thurmond’s training, entering the art at over 20 years old was still a rarity. But these standards did not stop Thurmond from pursuing his newfound passion.
“I was too naïve to know that this was not supposed to be doable,” Thurmond says.
Thurmond entered the Garden Court building, which then housed the University Of Louisville Academy Of Music, where a ballet class was just ending. In a spur of the moment decision, he asked the instructor if he could take dance lessons.
“She took two steps back and looked at me from top to bottom and from bottom to top and said sure you can have a scholarship,” Thurmond recalls.
“I was just a guy trying on new clothes,” Thurmond says. He spent his mornings working at a pre-school facility before attending dance lessons almost immediately after. Within one year, the Louisville Ballet began holding auditions for its touring group, and his hard work paid off when he was offered a position, marking the official beginning of Thurmond’s long and dynamic dance career.
Thurmond’s resume has expanded quite a bit since his first stint at the Louisville Ballet. He’s worked in Kentucky state cabinets, various arts institutions, educational organizations, and non-profits like the Salvation Army. One of his most notable roles is his work with Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS) in its inaugural years when he served as the school’s first chair of the dance department. Fresh off of his dance career at the Louisville Ballet, Thurmond had many doubts about leading a high school program. One night he said to himself, “Whoever told you that you thought you could do this.”
However, Thurmond’s doubts were soon put to rest when students from across the state, with and without dance experience, attended the newly formed magnet.
“There are adults living all over the United States who have had professional dance careers and are still professional performers and choreographers who took their first dance lesson ever at YPAS while I was there,” he says, “That is a point of significant pride.”
After five successful years leading YPAS’s dance department and one year as the magnet’s assistant principal, The Kentucky Center for the Arts invited Thurmond to be the founding director of the now notorious Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA).
“It was a success in its very first year, and it continues to be a success today,” Thurmond says, “I’m really proud of that legacy.”
During the 2009-2010 Season, Thurmond returned to the Louisville Ballet to perform two principle roles, playing Von Rothbart in Swan Lake and the title role in Don Quixote. Thurmond expressed a great sense of gratitude for being able to play two principal roles within one season, but also emphasized that meeting a new generation of Louisville Ballet dancers enhanced the experience even more.
“Their sense of welcoming and openness to me, who they did not know at all, was overwhelming to me,” he says.
Now, Thurmond continues to be involved with a number of organizations. He teaches weekly adult dance classes at the Louisville Ballet School, serves on the board of Kentucky to the World, and leads arts based consulting firm Developing Xcellence Together. His many roles and responsibilities seem overwhelming to balance but Thurmond calmly says, “For some reason, everything that came before prepared me for everything that came next.”
Nick Sahli has been a student in Thurmond’s weekly adult jazz class at the Louisville Ballet School for just over two years.
“David himself is a very talented and expressive dancer. He easily brings his wonderful choreography to life,” Sahli says.
Before this class, Sahli, much like Thurmond at the beginning of his career, had no dance experience. Still, Sahli pointed out that as a teacher Thurmond caters to everyone in the class no matter the skill level.
“David plays a variety of music and pushes us to feel the music and to dance, not just repeat choreography,” he says.
Though Thurmond has made a name for himself across Louisville in his various roles, he thinks back to where it all began.
“Had there not been an organization called the Louisville Ballet and had there not been an organization called Fund for the Arts, my career would have never happened,” he says.