At age 15, Ben Malone made his Nutcracker debut in the party scene. But unlike many of his peers, dancing had not been his childhood dream. While other tiny tots aspired to tutus or tunics and can remember the days of being chin high to the barre, Malone dreamt not of costumes, but of a uniform. "I've thought about being a cop since I was quite young, maybe three or four," he says. "My mother [a federal prosecutor] worked very closely with law enforcement, so growing up I'd be running around her office and see the FBI agents and state police officers and think how cool they looked, and how I wanted to be like that someday." But before Malone dedicated his life to serve and protect, he found the thrill of the stage.
Malone in his role as a teaching artist with Richmond Ballet's MIM program.
Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet
Malone's leap into the studio happened inadvertently, with a shove from a high school friend recruiting boys for the Nutcracker party scene. The requirement to be in the local production was taking one ballet class a week, and Malone showed a natural affinity for movement and placement. Soon one class a week became three, which turned into summer programs at Boston Ballet and an acceptance at Nutmeg Conservatory. Malone's long limbs, generous lines, natural charisma and tireless work ethic allowed him to progress at a rapid pace, and he soon landed at the Virginia-based Richmond Ballet. After spending one year as an apprentice, two in the second company and one year in the professional company, Malone stepped off the stage in 2015 and into Richmond Ballet's outreach program, Minds In Motion. As an MIM teaching instructor, Malone shared his knowledge and joy of dance with fourth graders in local elementary schools, cultivating an appreciation for movement and art in new generations. In 2018, Malone pirouetted back to the yearnings of his youth and entered the Richmond Police Training Academy. He graduated last month, and officially entered the city's force.
Malone at his police academy graduation
A sense of childlike fascination surfaces for Malone when asked about what he finds so appealing about being a cop. "Let's start with the obvious: Driving fast and catching criminals," he says. "It may sound cliché, but it is thrilling responding to Code 1 calls [critical calls that warrant lights and sirens]." And while car chases and stick-ups are a far cry from life in the studio, lessons learned from ballet aid Malone while he's on the beat. In fact, embedded in every mention of his new career is an acknowledgement of the significance of his dance background. "Ballet and law enforcement share the importance of hard work, working together, the ability to be a leader, communication, and plenty of working out and physical fitness," says Malone. After the rigorous physicality of ballet, Malone relishes using his body as an instrument again, and he's quick to point out that both professions provide dramatic day-to-day highs and lows. "There are small moments in ballet that bring you joy every day, and there are also larger milestones that you achieve through hard work and pushing through obstacles," he says. "The same goes for police work."
Since joining the force, Malone has continued to realize new parallels between his passions. He points to one particular role in his ballet career, the Prince of Verona in Romeo & Juliet, that seems to have foreshadowed his career change. "It's not a huge role, but the character has this massive commanding music, and bursts in while the Montagues and Capulets are in a huge fight, and causes everyone to halt in their tracks, lay down their weapons, and repent for their wrongdoings," he says. "Seems like a pretty perfect role to me!"
Malone in Val Caniparoli's Djangology at Richmond Ballet
Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet
Though there aren't quite as many costume changes, for Malone, dressing in uniform is also reminiscent of life as a dancer. "The first time I was able to put on the full Richmond Police uniform was very exciting," he says. "Everything from the hat to the gun belt, and the shoes were fitted on me. Believe it or not, our ballistic vests are also specifically fitted to each officer."
For many dancers, leaving life onstage is tinged with grief and uncertainty. But for Malone, stepping out of the spotlight allowed him to recapture a childhood dream and redefine his identity. And though he hasn't yet tried to teach any of his new colleagues first position, he adds, "You'll have to stay tuned for the next project coming up, which may include a dance off against the Richmond Fire Department." We're sure Officer Malone will keep his corps de police in line, and prepare them well for the challenge.