Honoring Black History

Richmond teen ballerinas lead change for social justice, inspire new mural and non-profit

Black History Month - Honoring Black History in Virginia and the Nation

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A group of Richmond teen ballerinas are using their love of dance to be a voice for change.

“Us doing what we do – spreading advocacy through dance – is definitely something positive,” 17-year-old Sophia Chambliss told 8News. 

Chambliss along with 14-year-old Ava Holloway, 14-year-old Kennedy George and 15-year-old Shania Gordon all met at Central Virginia Dance Academy in dance class, and are hoping use their platform to inspire others.

Kennedy George and Ava Holloway in ballet class. (Photo: Screengrab of videos provided by the family.)

Their journey to social advocacy began when Holloway and George decided to pose for now-viral photos in front of the Robert E. Lee statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue last summer.

That photo was taken after Holloway decided to visit the statue when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the statue would come down.

“Me and my mother wanted to just capture a historical moment, so I went one day,” Holloway said.

The next day they had plans to meet a photographer and happened to run into a classmate. 

“At that time, another Richmond photographer, Marcus Ingram, reached out and he wanted to take my picture in the morning, and when I arrived Kennedy happened to be there, so we took the pictures together,” Holloway said. That’s when a photographer named Julia Rendleman walked up to us, and posted it on Reuters and it just kind of took off from there.”

Overnight, the photos spread like wildfire on social media – something the teens say they did not expect.

Richmond dancers come together at the Robert E. Lee monument 2
Richmond dancers come together at the Robert E. Lee monument on June 5, 2020, after Northam’s announcement to take it down as soon as possible. (Kennedy George on the left, Ava Holloway on the right. Photo: Marcus Ingram)

“We were taking pictures just to have them and to be able to post them later,” Holloway said. “Then it blew up for a couple days for like a week.”

That same month, Holloway and her mother, author Amanda Lynch, decided to document the experience through a book, called ‘My Ancestor’s Wildest Dreams.’

A page from ‘My Ancestor’s Wildest Dreams.’ (Book authored by Ava Holloway and her mother Amanda Lynch.

“It’s about finding who you truly are, really,” Holloway explained. “It’s a dancer who is me staring down Robert E. Lee and, in the beginning, you can just really see how it changes throughout the book. You start off with the pink pointe shoes and then as the book transitions to the end you see the main character depicted in the skin tone tights and skin tone pointe shoes. How 2020 changed everybody’s lives without saying it so broadly.”

In July 2020, the group’s efforts went even further by creating a non-profit called Brown Ballerinas for Change.

“After it, like, blew up, we didn’t want it to be just a one time thing,” Gordon explained. “We wanted to make it grow and do what we love.”

Their mission is to increase diversity in ballet and advocate for social justice.

“We want to diversify dance and just make it more accessible to everyone,” Holloway said. “We believe dance shouldn’t just be just a white art form.”

Months later in January 2021, their platform was put on display. It inspired a new, larger than life mural which sits in the Fan neighborhood in Richmond.

The mural depicts all four dancers leading the way, and being a voice for others.

A closer look at the mural in the Fan neighborhood in Richmond.

“It’s shocking because I didn’t know that we would go this far to be on a mural,” Gordon said.

The teens admit the last few months have been a whirlwind, but aren’t taking the moment for granted.

“Really cool to see who you can connect with over just one picture,” Holloway stated.

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