Thomas Phelan is a problem solver, for fun, to learn, and in handling situations in or out of the studio and on or offstage. He takes a pragmatic, figure-it-out stance toward to life and art. “I’m a fairly positive person,” he says, “an optimist—and a realist,” which translates into matter-of-fact analyses of missteps and a pick-yourself-up-and-get-on-with it attitude in all he does.

He is also helped along the way by an irrepressible sense of humor. If you’ve spent even five minutes in Thomas’s company, you’ll predict that a sense of humor tops his list of essential characteristics for a good friend or colleague—or for himself. His boyfriend, Joel Domenico will say, “You think you’re kind of funny, don’t you?” Yes, he does. And is.


At parent conferences when Thomas was a child, his teachers would say good things about him but then add, “He needs to learn when it’s appropriate to make jokes.”
In adulthood, though he’s more subtle now in when and how he applies it, he’s essentially decided that there’s nothing that can’t benefit from humor. He has developed a finely honed sense of the incongruities of life.


He also says he greatly admires “Talent. I know writers, painters, singers, scientists and I’m greatly drawn by their passion and the way they talk about what they care about.”
If he had to state his own best characteristics, he’d say that he’s funny, intelligent and creative. He should add ‘versatile.’ His own talents span the sciences as well as the arts.


Thomas loves math, science, numbers, video games (“hand-eye co-ordination!”) and mind-bending puzzles, like those found at Ada’s, where we met to talk. “I love feeling my brain fire up,” he says. Recently, he’s become intrigued by old clocks. “I want to deconstruct a watch, see what mechanisms go into it.”


His ballet teacher in college (Colorado State University) had an origami day once, and that fascinated him—“the magic fold” where you have a flat little packet, then you pull, push through “and all of a sudden it’s a rose. She was wonderful at it—that kind of transformation.” The teacher in question is Carol Roderick, who taught at Royal Winnipeg and Boston Ballet before CSU. “She’s smart, talented, a great teacher, my role-model.”


Thomas began college as a math major, intending to go into teaching. “I could put a positive spin on math,” that a lot of people hate or find really hard. “It’s simple,” he remarks, “but not easy.” Then he got caught up in dance, and it’s easy to understand why when his teacher was Carol Roderick. “In teaching dance,” he says, “she recognized that there were various approaches

[Vaganova, Cecchetti, etc.], she knew how to explain the differences and would tell us why she was choosing to do it this way.” In a video of her talking about her teaching, she says, “I like learning in an educational setting rather than a performing arts setting because my mind works that way and I’m very interested in why and how and if and when and all those things.” A woman after Thomas’s heart.


It’s not surprising that in the whole process from first rehearsal to last performance, Thomas most likes “the work, the rehearsals and the classes, learning how to do it—it’s also a bonding experience, making connections with the people around you.” As he points out, he got a late start in dance and is still enamored of the initial creative process. He also likes the safety of the studio, where you are allowed to and even supposed to experiment and make mistakes. For similar reasons, he enjoys teaching dance, which he does when it’s his turn to take company class, in the Whim W’Him workshops at Velocity Dancer Center, and at The Studios where he teaches jazz and ballet. (In fact, this coming Sunday morning, his one day off between two fiendishly busy weeks, he’s agreed to substitute at the latter simply because he loves teaching).


“I dance,” says Thomas, “because it’s fun! I get to get this energy out, entertain people, and help create art.” Dancing with Whim W’Him is for him, “a bonding experience, making connections with the people around you.”


His experience with the company has been both “super-inspiring” and “super-challenging— I love that. I wouldn’t want to be the best dancer in a troupe, a superstar.” He says, and it’s evident watching him, that “my dancing is so much stronger than it was before I started with Whim W’Him” and he celebrates the opportunity “to grow while I have the privilege of dancing here.”


And for all his attachment to the process of making dances, Thomas notes that Whim W’Him has “made me appreciate the end product as much as the work.”


With his scientific pursuits, Thomas tends to his mental as well as physical well-being, and he enjoys times of stillness. So much strenuous physical movement in the course of a working day, means that athough he’s happy to go out to clubs at night with friends, he often prefers to sit on the sidelines and enjoy watching others move. But that’s not all.


Thomas’s life is very full, and this week even his seemingly boundless fund of energy has been taxed. In addition to an hour warmup each morning and 4-hour rehearsals with Whim W’Him for a new piece by exceedingly energetic choreographer Manuel Vignoulle, Thomas is also practicing for this Friday night’s offering by House of Verlaine (May 9), the new venture of Rachel Gourde, (aka Lily Verlaine). The performers—
Whimmers Thomas, Tory Peil and Lara Seefeldt, several from Spectrum, and a couple of others— are all trained dancers, but the enterprise still maintains the irresistible blend of humor, fancy costumes and gender-bending burlesque for which Lily/Rachel is renowned. In the new show, Thomas dances, among other numbers, in a 12 minute can-can recently performed at the French-American School of Puget Sound’s 20th anniversary gala. The whole enterprise is “very fun,” says Thomas. “We have a good time!” A balance of wildly different pursuits seems always necessary to his existence.


For more on Thomas:
Whim W’Him | bounding – Thomas Phelan;
Whim W’Him | reflecting – Jim/Kyle/ Thomas;
THOMAS PHELAN | justreit