Kennedy Center Honoree
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Debbie Allen knew at a very young age that she wanted to be a professional dancer, but for a black girl in the 1950s, that dream didn’t always seem attainable. At 12, her talent was undeniable, but the color of her skin kept her from being admitted to the Houston Ballet School. A year later, an instructor was so impressed with her, that he snuck her into the program. By the time the admissions department learned the truth, they couldn’t deny her raw talent and allowed her to stay. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be only Allen’s only encounter with the discrimination. At 16, she was told her body was “unsuited” for the craft. This led her to abandon her dreams for a time.
After obtaining a drama degree from Howard University, Allen headed to Broadway where she began a successful stage career as both actress & dancer. Her career grew to include roles behind the camera including directing her sister, Phylicia Rashad, in The Cosby Show & A Different World (two of my childhood favorites).
Although impressive, that’s not why I’m featuring Allen. Each person I chose this month has been an inspiration or has directly impacted my life. This one might be the most personal.
Allen, choreographed the Academy Award show a record 10x! In 1993, she held auditions for couple of lead spots she needed to fill for the show. Although not professionally trained, my dad and his partner decided to try out. They were chosen from over 200 dance couples!
Being a featured dancer on the Oscars lead to more opportunities for my dad. He landed additional roles in film and on tv, began to work as a choreographer and eventually ran his own salsa production company. Like Allen, my dad experienced racism as a child. It destroyed his self esteem. For him, the dance floor was the only place he felt free to be himself. When she chose him to be on the show, she breathed life into a withering spirit.
Her talent, achievements & awards are numerous. She deserves every accolade for her contributions to the world of drama & dance. She continues to pour into aspiring dancers through her non-profit dance academy, breathing life into their dreams, just like she did for me dad.
photo credit: http://www.taranicolehughes.com/insight/debbie-allen