Thousands of District youth have benefited from dance instruction provided by the highly-respected CityDance DREAM program, helping them leap forward in their quest to achieve their dreams as professional dancers, choreographers and teachers of various dance genres.
And to mark the fifth anniversary of CityDance’s DREAMscape, Emmy Award-winning dance icon and Howard University alum Debbie Allen will serve as this year’s host for their annual gala performance on Saturday, May 6 at the Lincoln Theatre.
Proceeds will go to the Dream program — a free after-school initiative that provides dance classes, mentoring, performance opportunities, tutoring and college counseling to students from underserved communities across the District.
Allen said she continues to be impressed by the program and its commitment to youth.
“It’s important to give real value to dance and it’s a real tragedy that our country’s current Administration doesn’t see the benefits of providing ongoing financial support to the arts,” she said.
“The ongoing mission of programs like this is to use the art of dance to uplift the lives of our youth — it can open the doors to incredible opportunities and a whole new world. I’d say we need these kinds of programs now more than ever. While some want to push our children toward mathematics, science and technology only, we must remember that the arts and sciences are inseparable. Together they help children learn how to think outside of the box — making for more creative ways to reflect, to live and to see their environment,” said Allen, a Houston native who has long fought against racism in the dance arena.
“I knew I wanted to dance when I was 3 but I was continually told that my body was unsuited for ballet,” she said. “But that never deterred me. Then, during my matriculation at Howard, I considered giving up on dance. I was really down on myself after being rejected so many times. But while attending a party on Howard’s campus, I met Mike Malone. He saw me on the dance floor, showed me a dance magazine with his face on the cover, and told me that he’d be my instructor. He pulled me out of my funk and helped me regain my confidence. I never looked back.”
Allen, a celebrated choreographer, dancer and director, would go on to such memorable projects as “Fame” for which she won three Emmy Awards for choreography, make her mark in a starring role in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story” and later return to the stage in the classic “Sweet Charity.” She opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles in 2001 and most recently began to direct episodes of the hit television show “Gray’s Anatomy,” often showcasing her acting abilities as well.
But she will probably always be remembered most for stepping behind the camera to direct “The Cosby Show” spinoff, “A Different World.”
“If you want to know what it’s like to attend an HBCU and to understand the difference they continue to make in the lives of Black students, just watch ‘A Different World,’” she said with a laugh.
“Dance is my life. And art serves as reflection of how artists see the world. Whenever I work on a piece, I’m using dance to help others see my interpretation of reality,” she added.
Allen premiered her “FreezeFrame” choreographed piece at the Kennedy Center in 2016 — an interpretive reflection on the impact of gun violence in America. It received rave reviews, so much so that she’s been inspired to take the show on the road.
“I’m working on securing funding so that we can present it in at least five cities across the country,” she said. “I’m always working on a project. ‘FreezeFrame’ was my attempt to use film, dance, spoken word and anything else I could find to tell a story that I believed really mattered and had to be told while also hopefully touching people’s hearts and minds,” she said.
“I stay immersed, I suppose, and I am admittedly a woman of many hats. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”