Thomas Forster’s New Children’s Book “My Daddy Can Fly!” Celebrates Men in Ballet
For American Ballet Theatre principal Thomas Forster, his career has provided not only a good paycheck, but the opportunity to travel the world. Despite this, when he tells people he is a professional ballet dancer, he still finds himself fielding questions like “But what do you really do?” and “Do you have to wear pointe shoes?”
“There’s just zero education out there or understanding of what ballet is as an art form and how physically demanding it is,” says Forster.
To promote men in ballet and inspire future generations of dancers, Forster is releasing a new children’s book, My Daddy Can Fly! (Random House Studio, $17.99), written with Shari Siadat, an author, dancer, model and activist who serves on ABT’s board.
“There are so many biases in the world about what a male dancer is,” says Siadat, who began studying ballet herself at age 4. “Being a ballet dancer is one of the hardest athletic endeavors. It requires agility, precision and creativity. From a muscular standpoint, you have to hold positions for extended periods of time and look like you’re floating through air.”
Due out November 23 and currently available on pre-order, My Daddy Can Fly! is a heartwarming tale about Forster’s 4-year-old son, Ben, featuring colorful illustrations by Jami Gigot. As Ben and his friends play in the dress-up corner of their classroom, they each share what they want to be when they grow up. Ben wants to be strong, gentle, fierce and fast; he wants to fly—just like his daddy. While his friends are convinced Ben’s daddy must be a pilot, he gives them a few more clues before proudly sharing what his dad really does.
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As a young boy growing up in England, Forster had a keen interest in studying karate after watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” on television. But he was too young to start martial arts classes, so his mother enrolled him in ballet instead to help him build strong legs for karate lessons later on—which he never ended up taking.
“I found an amazing teacher, June Lowdell, who saw potential in me and encouraged me to audition for the Royal Ballet Junior Associates when I was 8,” says Forster. “I was accepted in the program, and that’s when I met a whole group of boys who did ballet.”
Forster describes his upbringing doing ballet as “very positive.”
“At a very young age, I did ballet at a school talent show, and people were very proud of me,” recalls Forster.
His parents were also supportive of his ballet studies, with his father and mother taking him to ballet lessons every Saturday. Forster says this was instrumental in building his confidence as a young dancer.
“Consciously or subconsciously, I believe we are all striving to please our parents in life,” says Forster. “When you know that they are 100 percent behind you, it gives you extra confidence to succeed in whatever you’re doing.”
And he did succeed; Forster completed his training at The Royal Ballet’s Upper School and began his career with ABT in 2006, joining the Studio Company. ABT’s recent fall season marked Forster’s first as a principal since being promoted during the pandemic in September 2020.
Creating New Narratives
For Siadat, the time is ripe to tell stories such as Forster’s.
“I think we are in an era where we are starting to understand masculinity in its toxic forms and the social constructs that have been built to keep people in certain roles,” explains Siadat, who also serves as co-chair of R.I.S.E., ABT’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. “We have the opportunity now to say we know better, and we have examples to share such as Tom, a heterosexual male ballet dancer who has a son and a wife, who also happens to teach at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.”
Forster enrolled his son, Ben, in ABTots, the JKO School’s program for toddlers ages 2 to 3 years old. “He had a blast.”
My Daddy Can Fly! is the latest book in ABT’s multi-book publishing program with Random House Children’s Books announced last year. Additional books ABT has released include B is for Ballet: A Dance Alphabet (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $18.99) and Boys Dance! (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $17.99).
Forster hopes the book will shed light on the profession of male ballet dancers and inspire all children, no matter what they want to be when they grow up.
“The message I want the book to share is that whatever you want to do as a young person, work hard and go for it,” says Forster.