BANGOR — After 31 years as owner and director of Thomas School of Dance in Bangor, Jane Bragg announced recently that Cassie Pillsbury, who has been on the school faculty for 10 years, has assumed ownership of the school. Fall classes will begin Thursday, Sept. 4, under Pillsbury’s direction. Bragg will continue her volunteer work as executive director of Bangor Ballet.
In its 86 years of existence Thomas School of Dance has had only two directors, Bragg said.. Bangor native Polly Lynch, who became Polly Thomas when she married Brewer native Arthur Thomas, began teaching dance while she was still in high school in the late 1920s. In 1983 Polly Thomas retired and turned the school over to Bragg, who shared her love of teaching and dance. At that time all four of Bragg’s children were students at Thomas School of Dance, but it was Bragg’s passion for dance that kept her at the helm long after her children were grown.
Under Bragg’s direction, the school has grown to more than 270 students and has outreach locations in Dexter and Ellsworth.
As Polly Thomas had done before her, Bragg reached out to rural communities to offer dance
instruction in Dover-Foxcroft, Stonington, Greenville, Kenduskeag, Dexter and Ellsworth. As a community service, she took her students to perform in nursing homes and elsewhere in the Bangor area, and offered lecture-demonstrations in area schools. She twice led a group of dancers to Russia and in turn hosted Russian students in Bangor. She organized a trip to France in 2008, in coordination with her daughter Emily who lives and teaches dance there. While in France, the students performed an original ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, “The Little Mermaid,” or “La Petite Sirene” in French.
In 1994, Bragg co-founded Bangor Ballet with Ivy Clear-Forrest, a former New York City dancer who performed professionally under legendary choreographer George Balanchine and renowned dancer and choreographer Robert Joffrey. Clear-Forrest has been the ballet instructor at Thomas School of Dance since 1991, as well as the artistic director of Bangor Ballet since its founding. Thomas School of Dance is home to and the official training school for Bangor Ballet.
Cassie Pillsbury is a native of Unity where she has operated a school of dance for more than 10 years. She attended the University of Maine at Farmington, the University of South Carolina at Columbia, and Oxford-Brookes University in Oxford, England, graduating with a degree in dance and world studies. Along with teaching her regular studio classes, Pillsbury has worked as a dance and creative movement instructor for RSU 3, for which she developed and implemented a districtwide dance program. She regularly teaches workshops, lectures, performs and works as an artist in residence for primary, secondary and higher education institutions, and in other settings statewide. Pillsbury is on the boards of directors of the Maine Dance Teachers Club and Bangor Ballet. She said she shares the vision and commitment of both Polly Thomas and Jane Bragg and will carry on the tradition of excellence that has defined the school over the past 86 years. She is excited to work with the current faculty, all of whom have taught for Thomas School of Dance for many years, and she looks forward to continuing the school’s close relationship with Bangor Ballet.
“It is sad to say goodbye to all my faculty friends and to everyone who is or has been part of the Thomas School of Dance family, but it is time for me to step down from the day-to-day business of running a dance school,” Bragg said. “I am thrilled that Cassie Pillsbury is taking over the leadership of Thomas School of Dance and I look forward to a continued relationship with colleagues and students through my work with Bangor Ballet.”