Sentinel Managing Editor Yussuf J. Simmonds inteviews Debbie Allen (Photo by Brian Carter for Sentinel)
Debbie Allen watching students at DADA (Photo by Brian Carter for Sentinel)
Debbie Allen continues to pass the rich tradition of dance to future generations.
By Brian W. Carter
Sentinel Staff Writer
and Elzena Rankins
You say the name Debbie Allen and so many things come to mind…dancer, teacher, director, producer, philanthropist…the list can go on and on. At the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), Allen and faculty teach, breathe and live dance to all their students. The Sentinel recently spoke to Allen about the Summer Intensive Program (SI), future projects, and Allen’s personal memories of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
DADA, which is the most requested program is geared toward serious students who are looking to expand their dance technique and vocabulary. The academy also holds classes for those who just want to have fun, the classes range from, hip hop, to tap, salsa, krumpin’ and more, which you can pay as little as fifteen dollars per class.
“In the summer time, when it’s hot, you can get three times the amount of work done in one month,” said Allen. “When it’s hot, it’s good and also kids are out of school and it’s an opportunity to also visit other things.”
The SI program sees 150 young dancers from all over the United States and countries such as South Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe come for a month long dance intensive at DADA. “We train in all the major disciplines for a month,” said Allen about the SI program. The SI starts in July and culminates with a recital concert at the Central Los Angeles High School No.9 Theatre (CLAH#9) on August 1. Allen also started a hip-hop SI program in June and has an “Early Bird” program aimed at kids ages 4-7.
Allen has a long list of accomplishments when it comes to production, both on and off stage or behind the stage directing, producing and choreographing. She has also flexed her directing skills with films like Amistad and on Broadway with productions like “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” which won the Olivier Award for Best Revival in London where it played to sold out audiences.
Allen spoke about some of her latest productions like “Twist”, a re-imagining of the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist. Allen will direct and choreograph the production that sees Twist as a young, mulatto boy in 1928 New Orleans, searching for identity and family.
“We are so excited about this,” said Allen, “we have six young people from this community that are going to be starring in the play.” Later this year, Allen will be presenting a newer version of the Nutcracker entitled “The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” which will debut at Royce Hall, December 6. She’s also working on bringing her children’s book to the silver screen. Dancing in the Winds, which is currently in development with Mandate Pictures, which she will also choreograph and direct.
Allen shared that she intends for DADA to be for anyone who wants to dance and learn from the very best in the art. Allen spoke about the requirements for attending DADA and how they differ from other academies. “I am determined to make dance a possibility for any child that really wants it,” said Allen. “I don’t have those stipulations about body types, weight or height and size…a lot of dance academies won’t even look at a child if they’re not a certain body type.”
Whether children are experienced in dancing or not, DADA is open to receive them. Allen stressed how she wishes to make her academy affordable to all who wish to train in the arts of dance. “I want to make it affordable and so we have open classes every night.”
DADA also makes sure its dancers’ are at the top of their game intellectually as well. Allen makes sure the students are aware of the history of dance as well as the artists who have paved the way. “They have to past a test in order to dance at a recital,” said Allen. “They will not get on the stage if they can’t tell me who is Katherine Dunham, who is Bob Fosse… who is Eugene O’Neill…I am determined that they are literate.”
Allen also took the time to comment on one of the world’s greatest icons and pop artist, Michael Jackson. She spoke about his legacy to the world and to dance as well as her fond memories of him. “Michael Jackson is someone who I adored,” said Allen. “Michael Jackson is someone that I had a really close relationship with; Michael Jackson used to come to my house, I have a little dance studio in my house…as fantastic as he was and is, he always wanted to try something new.”
She continued, “Michael Jackson has had an impact on any young dancer or choreographer or performer that you see today. So it’s not like we have to just do something in particular to pay homage, he’s with us all the time. When they [media outlet] interviewed me about Michael Jackson…and they asked me ‘What was Michael Jackson’s relationship to the beat?’ and I said ‘Honey he was the beat.'”
The ten-year old academy is truly a dancer’s home, with young dancers of every discipline lining the halls and the sound of music pulsing through the walls. Allen and an all-star staff of renowned dance teachers are training and molding tomorrow’s Broadway and dance sensations.
The Debbie Allen Dance Academy is located at 3791 Santa Rosalia Drive
in Los Angeles. You may call 310-280-9145 or visit the website at www. Debbieallendanceacademy.com.