Debbie Allen with Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) dancers in “Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.” (Courtesy of Netflix)
Debbie Allen with Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) dancers in “Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.” (Courtesy of Netflix)

Make no mistake, Debbie Allen is a force of nature — and audiences get a peek into her power and brilliance in the Netflix and Shondaland documentary “Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.”

Since its inception in 2009, “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker,” a reimagining of the classic holiday ballet “The Nutcracker,” has been a staple production for Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA). The production serves as the biggest annual fundraiser for DADA, which was founded in 2000. 

Directed by Oliver Bokelberg, “Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker,” chronicles the 10th-anniversary performance of what has become a DADA holiday classic, and celebrates the impact the arts can have on young lives. The film’s executive producers include Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Andrew Fried, Dane Lillegard and Jordy Wynn.

The opening scene in the film is Allen directing the youngest members of the ensemble, starting at age four, how to quickly come out on stage to take their bows before the audience. We are introduced to Allen’s coaching style.

“Are y’all going to remember everything we did? “Because dancers are what,” she asked, getting feedback from the students. “Dancers are the most intelligent people on the planet, and we remember everything, right?” 

The Concept Behind This Dance Sensation  

“Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” comes from the mastermind of Allen, who wrote, directed, and choreographed the epic production. It is not a modest dance recital. It is an extravaganza that includes singing and acting. The story brings together a global perspective of diverse cultures that comes from Allen’s desire to ensure cultural relevance.

“I wanted to make it fun and have a cultural identity of music that was not tied to Tchaikovsky,” Allen said. “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker takes us on our journey to real and imagined things, all done with different styles of dance and music.”

“Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” is a cast of 200 children and adults, all requiring a minimum of three costume changes. Many of the dancers have grown up in DADA, but they also had to go through tryouts. Positive reinforcement mixed with a little tough love from Allen and her team is what dancers got while going through a grueling rehearsal schedule. 

The Road to Greatness 

Mixed with scenes of the “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” production process was Allen’s backstory. Some of it fans know- from being told she didn’t have a dancer’s body to rejection by dance schools and her own mother.

 Perseverance won the day for the multi-award winner and recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. Allen saw similar obstacles, along with financial needs, experienced by her dancers. 


I loved the work ethic Allen preached throughout the film. The Howard University alumna had a stern conversation with the ensemble about showing up late. Allen was direct about the consequences in the real world about tardiness- you will be fired. I think they got it.

“Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” touched me to my core. 

While viewing the film, I felt the heartbreak of DADA dancers when they didn’t get into their desired dance company or when coping with an injury.

This film took me back to ballet lessons and recitals that my sister and I were in at a very young age, just like the youngest girls in the documentary. I also was in the chorus for a production of “The Nutcracker” at Jessie LaSalle Elementary School in Northeast, D,C. Would I have been good enough to get into a DADA production?

The joy this holiday season is watching “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” on Netflix with your family. You won’t regret it.

Take a look at the trailer for “Dance Dreams”

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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