It is hard to imagine the “Dancing Cop” coming to rest for even a moment, but this home is where Donald J. Thomas (b 1927) put his feet up at nights from 1969 to 1999, the years that found him morphing from local traffic officer to Cape Cod Celebrity; the one person in Provincetown whom day trippers would surely remember even after they’d forgotten everything else. Thomas worked Lopes Square the way Astaire worked a ballroom. Or at least the way Tony Manero worked 2001 Odyssey. His spins, swivels, pivots, thrusts and parries kept traffic moving and passersby mightily entertained. Some of his moves were recorded for posterity on this YouTube video. Take a look. Believe me, a still photo does not do Officer Thomas justice.
Donald Thomas comes from a family of fishermen. He joined the Provincetown police force in 1947 as an auxiliary patrolman. The traffic stint began in the 1970s and the dance steps soon followed — not from exhibitionism, he insisted, but out of self-preservation. “If you stand still, you’re a target; you know what I mean?” he said to Mary Ann Bragg in 2002, when it looked as if his dancing days were over. (“‘Dancing Cop’ Will Lose His Beat,” The Banner, 28 February 2002.) Thomas shared with Bragg that he “favors line dancing, the jitterbug and the twist, and Glen Miller music.”
His job was spared that year, but in 2011 — at the age of 83 — he could not escape the inevitable any longer, despite an outpouring of popular support, including two Facebook pages, Donald “The Dancin’ Cop” Thomas and Help Us Reinstate Donald “The Dancing Cop” Thomas as Traffic Director, and the distribution of Dancin’ Cop T-shirts at the Old Colony Tap and the Kite Shop.
After a meeting in May 2011 with Town Manager Sharon Lynn and Police Chief Jeff Jaran, Thomas sent this message to supporters through his granddaughter, Carmen Marie Thomas:
They had their minds made up: No square!! I guess the will of the people doesn’t count. The mystery to me is why they don’t want me there!
Anyway, I will miss all you great folks who depended on me — fishermen, truckers, motorcycles, trolleys and pedestrians. But most of all, I will miss giving badges to the children. Please take care and good luck.
One of Thomas’s supporters in 2011 was Robert Sanborn, then the town tourism director, who called the Dancing Cop “part of the fabric of Provincetown.” (Kevin Mullaney, “Provincetown Dancing Traffic Cop’s Job at Risk, Again,” The Banner/Wicked Local, 25 April 2011.) Sanborn, the proprietor of the Prince Albert Guest House at 164 Commercial and 166 Commercial, bought this property from the Thomas family in 2001.