About Us and President's Message

Friends of City Dance is a group of citizens who believe in the power of the arts to transform young lives. Our mission is to encourage, support and promote City Dance Theatre and the City Dance Program of Richmond, Virginia's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities.

We support City Dance with funds for design, production and travel costs associated with performances and competitions, scholarships for college, workshops and other training opportunities, and special equipment needs of the Dance Program. We are currently collaborating with City Dance Theatre to develop and produce The Ebo Landing Project, an ambitious set of four newly commissioned dance works with original music and choreography. Following a local premiere, the plan calls for a state-wide tour, then travel to England for a performance in Richmond's Sister City, Richmond upon Thames.

Friends of City Dance is a Partner with The Enrichmond Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit umbrella organization supporting parks and recreation in Richmond. All contributions are fully tax-deductible.

To make a donation online or by check, please click here.

If you have any questions or are interested in volunteering, please email us at info@friendsofcitydance.org or phone (804) 366-7602.


William Eldridge, Ph.D., President
Scott Sibley, Vice President
Annette Henry, Treasurer
Pamela Smith, Recording Secretary
Melody Eberhardt, Corresponding Secretary
President's Message

Friends of City Dance was founded because we believe that Richmond's City Dance Program is an unheralded national treasure. The structured, longitudinal program of dance instruction and character development that founder Annette Holt and her dedicated team of teacher-mentors have developed and refined over the course of 24 years is a shining example of the heights to which a municipal Recreation and Parks arts program can aspire.

The daily mission of Friends of City Dance is to support the City Dance Program through advanced training scholarships and support for City Dance Theatre performances and touring. Our larger goal is to spread awareness of this unique and uniquely successful municipal arts program to a larger public in the belief that it can serve as an inspiration and model for municipal arts programs across the nation.

Annette Holt, founder and Director of the Program, is a remarkable teacher, mentor and leader, and the City of Richmond must be commended for its vision and foresight in allowing her to conduct what has been in effect a 28-year-long experiment in whether it is possible to successfully teach a long-term, structured and ballet-centered dance curriculum to inner-city children.

The results speak for themselves. The Program has been highly successful in terms of both artistic and personal development for many thousands of children and teens over the years. The several hundred former students who have been most actively involved in the Program have all gone on to college and constitute a dazzling array of professional dancers and dance majors, actors, lawyers, bankers, teachers and other professionals. The Program instills a sense of professionalism about dance through its semi-professional City Dance Theatre which naturally leads teens to gravitate toward the professions.

Friends of City Dance firmly believes that Ms. Holt's results can be replicated elsewhere without requiring a resident visionary. Ms. Holt's vision is a simple one: why not use municipal arts programs to afford every child the opportunity for the kind of thoughtful, high-quality training otherwise available only at expensive private dance academies and the schools of professional ballet companies?

Ms. Holt and her faculty have created a model for what a coherent, ballet-centered municipal program should look like. They have demonstrated that such a program can offer low tuition rates and scholarship assistance while being largely self-supporting. The City contributes dance space and two staff positions: the Director and a half-time master teacher. This cannot be far in excess of what other cities of similar size are currently spending for what is typically a program that is little more than a smorgasbord of unrelated dance classes.

Richmond has achieved recognized success with its one-of-a-kind municipal dance program merely through the intelligent application of talent and resources, as well as the willingness to believe that all children are capable of responding to the attraction and challenge of ballet and deserve the opportunity to study it equally as much as well-off suburban children (some of whom attend the City Dance Program not for its low tuition but for its reputation for quality, long-term instruction).

America is filled with competent, dedicated teachers of ballet and modern dance and with children of all races and backgrounds who are eager to learn the art. There is no reason that other cities should be unable to emulate the City Dance Program on a scale appropriate for their size.

In addition, we feel that many aspects of the City Dance Program's philosophy and approach to after-school arts instruction can be successfully applied to areas other than dance:

1) Dance instruction absolutely requires concentration, focus, discipline, and respect for teachers and fellow students in order to proceed at all. The Program's teachers must and do insist on these qualities, and they have a developmentally comprehensive approach which builds them into students beginning at age three or whenever they happen to arrive.

2) The Program offers children competitive goals to aspire toward and both peer and older role models to emulate. Children strive to master their own bodies in space, then work toward becoming assistant teachers and auditioning for one of several semi-professional dance companies under the umbrella of City Dance Theatre, including Kids-Co for younger dancers aged 9-13. By the time they are 16 and 17, City Dance Theatre dancers have received enough advanced dance training to successfully audition for such prestigious programs as the Julliard Summer Dance Intensive and the Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive Workshop.

3) The City Dance Program offers all 425 students regardless of age or level the thrill of performing in two professionally produced evening-length recitals at Richmond's historic Landmark Theater, the same venue where the Richmond Ballet performed until recently. One recital features modern, jazz, praise and hip-hop. The other is a full-length story ballet, a rarity among dance schools. Mounting a ballet with over 200 youthful participants in full costume is a herculean effort made possible only by the eager participation of parent volunteers.

As performers in the story ballet, even the youngest and least experienced dancers share the status of cast member with their role models and heroes, the accomplished teens dancing on pointe or doing lifts while performing the leading roles.

4) City Dance fosters and emphasizes leadership both informally and in a structured fashion. Tiny tots teetering in their tutus help each other remember their steps. Nine-year-olds can become Assistant Teachers for the younger classes. The prize-winning City Dance Theatre competition teams have Team Captains. Older dancers serve as Counselors for a summer arts camp held at the Pine Camp Cultural Arts Center, which City Dance calls home. Dancers are encouraged to explore choreography, teaching their movements to other dancers and leading them in rehearsals.

5) Participants in the City Dance Program do not require self-esteem classes. Their level of self-esteem is extremely high because it has been earned. Dance classes are hard work. The Program's instructors are demanding and set high technical standards. As students progress through the levels of instruction, achieve goals and milestones, and receive genuine praise, they do not forget the hours of effort that led to their accomplishments. Overcoming stage fright, performing as the center of attention, and acknowledging the applause of multiple audiences is guaranteed to build self-confidence and pride.

The teen-pregnancy rate for girls who participate in the City Dance Program until graduation from high school is impressively low: out of approximately 250 girls over a 28-year span, there have been only four pregnancies (a rate of 1.6%. Drug use among this group has been zero.

There is no easy way to gather statistics on those students who participate in the Program for a time and then drop out. But we at Friends of City Dance feel strongly that any contact with the Program's teaching and peer environment, especially if it culminates in the opportunity to appear as a costumed dancer in a narrative ballet presented in a professional production with lighting, sets and union stagehands, must inevitably plant a self-image that will help a child resist gangs, drugs and teenage pregnancy as she navigates her teenage years.

The three photos included with this message speak volumes about the program. In one, very young dancers are seen in a choreography conference with Ms. Holt at a rehearsal for the ballet Snow White at the Landmark Theater in 2007. Their seriousness and focus is striking, but one can see that they feel engaged, happy and comfortable being on stage and listening to their teacher.

Another picture shows a group of flower-decked girls at the dress rehearsal for the same ballet. These are older beginning students and they are clearly feeling the joy of being allowed to participate in this colorful production.

The third photo depicts the Pas de Deux of Cinderella and her Prince from the Program's 2008 recital ballet. Courtney Robinson and Wade Green delivered moving and professional star-quality farewell performances as they prepared to leave the City Dance Program for further training at SUNY Purchase and the School of the Washington Ballet. Ms. Robinson is now performing professionally with the Philadanco Dance Company in Philadelphia. Mr., Green, who is profoundly deaf, is currently teaching dance to deaf students at Gaulludet University.

Friends of City Dance has such high regard for the artistic merits of City Dance Theatre that we are collaborating with the company to develop and present The Ebo Landing Project, an ambitious production currently in the planning stage. This evening-length set of new works will be an interconnected exploration of various aspects of the African-American experience.

Four original works of music and choreography have been commissioned for a local premiere at the Carpenter Theater at CenterStage, to be followed by a performance at the Richmond Theatre in our sister city of Richmond upon Thames, England.

Through The Ebo Landing Project, Friends of City Dance hopes to draw attention to the remarkable nature of Richmond's City Dance Program. This is the first step in our goal of bringing the program to the attention of the nation at large as a potential inspiration and model.

William Eldridge, PhD
President, Friends of City Dance