Richmond's award-winning municipal dance program was founded by Annette Holt, a ballet dancer and veteran of the London stage. When she arrived in Richmond 32 years ago after founding a successful public ballet program in Baltimore, dance activities in the Parks Department were minimal, unambitious and did not reflect the city's urban demographics.
Ms. Holt began by traveling to Gilpin Court, Whitcomb Court, and 15 other Richmond housing projects and community centers to teach introductory ballet. After a number of years with no central facility for dance instruction, she began teaching in the Pine Camp Cultural Arts and Community Center's original building, a dilapidated former tubercularium. In 2000 the Dance Program moved into three professional-quality dance studios in a newly-contructed arts center at Pine Camp.
Students from age 3 to 80 take dance classes in a wide variety of styles from ballet to modern to praise to hip-hop, with a strong emphasis on ballet as the foundation of a solid technique. Every June the Dance Program mounts two professionally-crewed recitals at Richmond's historic Landmark Theater: a recital of modern, jazz, praise and hip-hop and a full-length story ballet with scenery, costumes and theatrical lighting.
More advanced students can audition for several dance companies (City Dance Theatre, Agape and KidsCo) led by Ms. Holt, Rodney Williams, Artist-in-Residence Willie Hinton and other professional teacher-choreographers. City Dance companies compete nationally and have won over 100 awards at the Dance America and other competitions, including 11 first-place awards in 2004. They are always the only public dance program in competition and among the few competitors representing a diverse population.
The dance companies have performed at the Landmark Theater, Grace Street Theater, Dogwood Dell, local festivals, Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center, and with the Richmond Symphony and Richmond Boys Choir. Under the umbrella of City Dance Theatre they perform an annual recital of new works at the Grace Street Theater.
In the year 2000, City Dance Theatre Co-Directors Annette Holt and Rodney Williams were awarded the prestigious Teresa Pollak Award for Excellence in the Arts.
An example of the success of the City Dance Program in building technique, discipline, character, ambition and professionalism in its students is the Richmond Ballet dancer Thomas Ragland. He trained under Ms. Holt at Pine Camp from age 5 to 16. When he was 13, Thomas performed the title role in the Richmond Ballet's "The Nutcracker" and began his rise from student to trainee to apprentice to full company member.