The work of Debbie Allen has reached multiple generations, molding eras and fashions that continuously take on new form. Allen is the blueprint for women of color, exploring their innate ability to excel on multiple creative platforms.
Her colossal impact has recently been recognized by the Kennedy Center, along with other titans in American entertainment. Allen joins the list of honorees that have been recognized for unprecedented work in their lifetime. During an exclusive interview with the L.A. Sentinel, Allen reflected on her multi-faceted success and unveiled the pillars that currently still push her to express her innovation and creativity.
The Kennedy Center Honors is one of the most prominent awards recognizing careers devoted to arts and entertainment. Hosting the award show was Allen’s sister, three-time NAACP Image award-winning actress, Phylicia Rashad. The results of honorees of the 43rd annual celebration aired on CBS, Sunday, June 6.
Joining Allen in this achievement included singer songwriter, Garth Brooks, violinist, Midori Gotō, comedic actor, Dick Van Dyke, and songwriter, musician, and activist, Joan Baez.
During the recognition of talent, Allen was adorned with contributing performances; the showcase included harmonized symphonies from Tony Award winner, Anika Noni Rose and Young Hollywood Award winner, Vanessa Hudgens, both inspired by Allen’s performance in “Fame.”
Rose captured the essence of the Oscar-nominated ballad from the iconic movie score entitled, “Out Here on My Own” and Hudgens performed the Oscar-winning title song from “Fame.” Bringing it home at the end of show, Hudgens was joined by Vivian Nixon (Allen’s daughter), Rose, Ariana DeBose, Tiler Peck, Desmond Richardson, and the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
Inside cuts of her experience in hosting the Kennedy Honors, Rashad illuminated her sister’s energy and fire she always carried. Rashad stated, “We call her a few things— ‘Debbie Do,’ because Debbie does, and she’s been like that.”
Rashad continued describing her sister, “She does not say ‘I’m done,’ until she’s finished. She does not say ‘I can’t achieve that because it’s too difficult, I can’t reach that because it’s too far away’—she’s sets her mind to something, and she gives it her all.”
In reflection of being honored, Allen stated, “It was grand, it was beautiful—it was humbling.” She continued, “to be honored, and certainly with the class I was with, Dick Van Dyke, Midori, and Garth Brooks and Joan Baez—that was an amazing class.” Allen worked for the Kennedy center for over 20 years. She mentioned she never thought she would get this award.
As a Texas born creative soul, Deborah Kaye Allen was raised with two older siblings; her brother Andrew and sister, actress, Rashad, who also went into entertainment. Their mother constructed an environment of safety during a heightened time of racism by moving them to Mexico, where Allen and her siblings learned to speak Spanish fluently.
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Allen’s gifts for performance and innovation awakened early. She lived in a household of scholars and creatives that held knowledge to the highest degree. Her mother, Vivian, was Pulitzer-nominated poet and her father, Andrew Allen Sr., a distinguished orthodontist.
Among her early surroundings, Allen was encouraged to exercise her wide range of gifts. Allen’s self-identity took full bloom in the art of dance. Although she was filled with riveting movement and passion, she wasn’t easily accepted by those presumably holding the keys to the next level of her success.
According to Blackpast.org, Allen began to dance around the age of 12. She auditioned for the Houston Ballet School but was rejected. However, fate would have a Russian dancer spot Allen’s potential and “secretly enrolled” her into the school, where Allen became one of the top students.
Allen confirmed she was rejected from major performing art schools. She stated that very often she would get invited into offices, and soon after “they would kick her out.”
That wasn’t the last time Allen would face rejection, but it didn’t hinder her determination to keep trying. The lesson on how to get back up after defeat became a crown of wisdom for Allen. The “Grey’s Anatomy” actress and producer explained when one faces failure on their path towards your dream, “you stay in it,” Allen stated, “You don’t give up, tremendous success could be one step beyond perceived failure …”
Allen continued, “You don’t always know what’s waiting for you, you just have to be prepared and ready to take it on.” She went on to say, “Don’t give up, stay in the race, until you cross that finish line. Keep going.”
She now reminiscences about those times as a world renown dancer, director, producer, and actress. The Golden Globe Award winner shared her faith in what is possible never wavered. Allen said, “We are all born with this incredible body and mind and that’s a gift …”
Allen continued, “At some point, you have to turn on that modem that puts you into an existence that—if you are creative person like myself, allows you and inspires you to change things or address things …”
Turning all her experiences into tools of success, Allen would take her collegiate memories from Howard University and create pivotal seasons of the iconic TV series, “A Different World.”
The three-time Emmy award winner is now pollinating the next crop of legendary talent as the artistic director and founder of the Debbie Allen School Academy (DADA) with her husband, former NBA player Norman Nixon as chief financial officer and co-founder. Her dancing school breeds success stories and is filled with legendary moments; Allen is known for developing the best.
The founder of DADA went on show deep appreciation for the success that her students have shown under her tutelage, she noted, “They’re on Broadway, they’re in movies, they’re massive choreographers, they are starting their own nonprofits. Some of them are in the businesses of management and entertainment, some of them are teachers—it’s a great thing you can populate the world with those wonderful young people that you had a hand in mentoring and raising.”
Allen referred to her school as a church, she said, “Because I tithe to it, I am there night and day, and I am involved with spiritually, with every one of my students and my staff.” She went on to explain the feeling of blessings and abundance that surrounds that arena. Allen is living proof that consistency and unwavering perseverance are some of the greatest pillars that raises one’s success. In addition to her natural talent and abilities, Allen continues to shape the artistic world for generations to come.