When Dave Thomas was 12 years old, his aunt offered him a pair of skates and asked him to take figure-skating lessons for a year.
Little did he know that what began as a sweet deal for a free pair of skates would turn into a lifelong love.
After skating professionally for seven years as part of the Ice Follies, the Sarasota resident spent 25 years with Feld Entertainment, the company that launched Walt Disney’s World on Ice.
Growing up in Canada, Thomas began skating with his sister, Wendy, in amateur events and competitions. He admits he endured some gentle ribbing from his hockey buddies.
“There was a little bit of harassment on account of it (figure skating), but we would go and play hockey and I’d outskate them,” Thomas says, laughing.
Thomas was majoring in computer science and math at Waterloo University when he found out that the Icecapades and Ice Follies were both holding auditions in Toronto.
“I was finding it (college) dry and thought maybe I’d like to travel,” he says. “I had quit competing, but I had kept up skating, so I decided to go audition.”
In 1972, Thomas signed a contract with Ice Follies and began performing in the male ensemble. His figure-skating skills and height also made him the perfect partner for the principal female ice skaters. That opportunity changed his life forever.
“I met her when I was 22 in 1973, and I was 23 by the time she would speak to me,” Thomas says of Judy, his wife and former Ice Follies performer. “(I was) 29 by the we got married in 1979.”
The two traveled around the United States, Mexico and Canada, performing with the Ice Follies for a majority of the 1970s. While Thomas enjoyed performing challenging, comic and kid friendly numbers on the ice, he began to become more interested in what went on behind the scenes. He had occasionally helped the crew out for extra cash and also realized those jobs had much more longevity to them than performing.
In 1978, he transitioned to become stage manager for one of the three shows on the road.
“I didn’t expect opportunity to happen so quickly,” he says “I didn’t want to quit performing, but I couldn’t pass it up.”
In 1979 Kenneth and Irvin Feld bought Ice Follies, and two years later, the Felds launched the first Disney on Ice show. By 1985, Thomas was promoted from stage manager of the North American tours to company manager and financial controller of the shows worldwide. Judy also took off her skates and became a performance director.
In 1992, Thomas had the opportunity to settle down in Sarasota and, later, on Siesta Key. Thomas left Feld in 2004 to do independent consulting. Since then, he has worked with many entertainment groups, including Immersion Edutainment, which produced “Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience,” AEG, AMCI and ESFM Entertainment.
These days, Thomas enjoys activities such as kayaking or windsurfing, also still consults work for those wishing to create new entertainment ventures.
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