Shenandoah University graduate student Dorothy “Dot” Kelly ’18, B.F.A., is spending the first half of 2020 fulfilling a unique role: Miss Virginia.
Kelly, who was first runner-up at the pageant held in June 2019, assumed the role when then-Miss Virginia Camille Schrier was crowned Miss America in December 2019.
Kelly, 22, is pausing her studies in the Master of Science in Performing Arts & Leadership Management (PALM) program as she serves as Miss Virginia. Over the years, she has competed in pageants and won titles as Miss Tysons (2016), Miss Apple Blossom Festival (2018) and Miss Lynchburg (2019) all while being a full-time student.
“When I’m not busy, it drives me bananas,” said Kelly, who first grew used to balancing school and additional responsibilities as a high school student in Hampton, Virginia, when she not only took Advanced Placement courses, but also was a cheerleader and dedicated dancer. During summers, she also grew familiar with the pageant world – she was one of the dancers from the Academy of Dance and Gymnastics in Hampton to regularly perform at the Miss Virginia pageant.
Kelly, who began dancing at age 4 and hopes to one day run her own nonprofit dance organization, often collected autographs from the contestants, several of whom told her that her interest in dancing would line up well with pageant competition. At around the same time, Kelly, who is of Korean-American descent, saw an Asian-American woman take the Miss America title. Inspired by this confluence of influences and circumstance, she began to compete. First, she participated for a year in the Miss Virginia Outstanding Teen program, and then she moved on to the Miss Virginia circuit.
Melding pageant and student life
In her years of competition, she’s won $21,000 in scholarships to use toward her education; grown as a public speaker; and developed an even deeper interest in service and promoting both cultural diversity and leadership. It also allowed her to use her dance abilities to entertain (her talent is an a capella tap dance routine), even as she explored the relevance and philosophy of dance at Shenandoah Conservatory, with Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Professor of Dance Ting-Yu Chen, Ed.D. serving as her mentor. Kelly graduated from Shenandoah, magna cum laude, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance.
Kelly admits she’s the kind of person who always aims to give 1,000% whenever she can. For example, because she’s passionate about her art and its relevancy, she engaged in a self-conducted trip to Germany to choreograph a piece about the Holocaust, which she premiered at Shenandoah’s Senior Dance Concert as an undergraduate student.
Over the years, she has also trained as a dancer in Sweden; studied in Greece, France, England and Germany; served as assistant dance captain and a dancer in Shenandoah’s U.S. collegiate premiere of “Something Rotten”; performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the feature film “Santa Girl”; partnered and presented with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; worked as a dance educator; and engaged in service work with the Children’s Miracle Network through the Miss America Organization.
The call to become Miss Virginia couldn’t have come at a better time, because she can incorporate what she learns into her PALM studies, she said. As Miss Virginia, she’ll be involved in fundraising, business leadership and more.
“It’s helped me so much,” she said of her pageant experience. And now, through that same pageant system, she’s ready to give back.
She said she’s extremely excited about the collaboration between Miss Virginia and the Virginia ABC, which is taking her to 48 schools around the state to talk about making healthy choices, leadership and cultural diversity. She also hopes to meet some young people who will one day enter the pageants and, through them, grow and receive support for their education, just as she did.
Ready for the future
Kelly will serve as Miss Virginia until the 2020 pageant in June. After the pageant, she anticipates returning to her studies and her aspirations to be a dancer in New York City – perhaps as one of the famed Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.
Photo Credit: John Herzog Photography