‘I knew it was something special’: Ballerinas and photojournalist reflect one year after viral photo
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A year after a viral photo of two young ballerinas was taken at the Lee Monument, they are collaborating with the photojournalist who captured the moment, raising money to give other young dancers opportunities.
In the midst of nationwide unrest, on June 6, 2020, dancers Kennedy George and Ava Holloway decided to go to the Lee statue and take photos. Photojournalist Julia Rendleman was on assignment for Reuters and asked to go to the monument, she had planned to wait until it was later in the day to head to Monument Avenue.
“I was pushing to come down in the evening when the light is nice, and my editor said, ‘no, just go down there right now,’” said Rendleman. “So, I was probably a little grumpy about having to go down when I didn’t want to, but I parked my car and I saw them, and I knew right away it was something special.”
The photo Rendleman took for Reuters has been seen all over the world.
“With that photo, it is a whole different side of myself that gives me confidence and strength, and I feel powerful,” said Kennedy George.
George, along with Ava Holloway, co-founded Brown Ballerinas for Change, alongside Sophia Chambliss and Shania Gordon. The young women all dance at the Central Virginia Dance Academy.
“The mission of Brown Ballerinas for Change (BBFC) is to help create advocacy, social justice and to increase participation of underrepresented populations in ballet,” they explained online. “Brown ballerinas are change-makers. We are dancer-led and our purpose is to use ballet to promote activism, social justice and to increase diversity in the arts by providing annual scholarships, a mentor network, and community programs to empower young dancers.
The confidence and power Holloway and George felt after taking the photo is the same power they want to share with other dancers as they work to diversify the arts.
“I want [dancers] to feel no doubt in themselves. I don’t want anybody to feel that at all. If you can have the confidence and know that you are allowed to be there, and you can be there and you are just as able as the next person, I think that is what we want,” said George.
They say some progress is being made when it comes to more diversity in the arts.
“We have more skin tone options for ballet shoes, tights, all these things, but I still say we have a long way to go, there is still discrimination in the dance world. Whether it may not be at our studio or places we have been, it is definitely still a thing, “ said Holloway. “People still believe ballet is still a white art form, so even though we have come a long way, we still have work to do. Like we said last year, we are not going anywhere, we are still here.”
BBFC recently launched an ambassador program to offer mentoring and tuition-free classes. The application process is live through July 15.
“BBFC believes that with access to proper mentoring and training Brown Ballerinas should have the opportunity to learn from, be inspired by, and be befriended by older, more experienced Brown Ballerinas. In supporting this mission, we have established the BBFC Changemakers Program,” they explained online. “These young dancers will serve as ambassadors for BBFC through a Junior, Youth, Senior, and Elite Changemaker Ambassador program.”
As the young dancers continue their work, Rendleman says the photo has become more than a moment.
“When I look at that photo, I feel lucky to be a journalist and have a front-row seat to history,” she said. “It was a net positive. This image meant so much to people, and it was a symbol of strength and hope, and last year at that time a lot of people needed that.”
She continues to support the work of BBFC, recently collaborating with the organization to auction off a custom signed print of the viral photo of George and Holloway.
“I don’t own the photo, but I was able to get permission from Reuters and make a nice print of it and we tried an online auction, and we were able to raise $1,500 for the ambassador program and [Ava’s mom] said that will pay for one girl to dance for an entire year,” said Rendleman.
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