In a career that spans three decades, the name Debbie Allen is synonymous with black excellence. Her dynamic energy, innovative style, and impeccable talent make her a national treasure. Allen, a Houston, Texas native, is the third child born to Pulitzer-winning poet Vivian Ayers and dentist Arthur Allen. She would discover her passion for dance at the tender age of three years old. At the age of twelve, Allen would audition for the Houston Ballet School but would be denied admission based on racial discrimination. Impressed by Allen’s talent, a Houston Ballet School instructor would secretly enroll her into the program. By the time the override was discovered, Allen’s place had already been cemented. She would again face rejection from the North Carolina School of the Arts, as she would receive criticism that her body was not “suited” for ballet (often said to discourage black dancers). Allen would go on to attend the prestigious HBCU Howard University where she graduated cum laude with a degree in drama.
After college, Allen would head straight to New York where she would appear in several commercials and television series, like the epic miniseries Roots. She would have a breakthrough performance in the Broadway revival of West Side Story as Anita. For her talents, she would earn her first Tony Award nomination and land her next role in the movie Fame. The dance fad movie would spin off into a television show and for Allen’s innovative choreography she would collect three Emmy Awards. She would also star in Bob Fosse’s revival of the musical, Sweet Charity, which earned her a Tony Award. Allen would change shoes and step behind the camera as director of the popular show A Different World. Allen’s creative directorial style would boost the show’s ratings. In 2001, Allen would continue to expand her influence in the dance world as the Debbie Allen Dance Academy would open its doors in Los Angeles, California. For her incomparable talents, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to represent the United States as a Cultural Ambassador of Dance. She has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from her alma mater, Howard University, and from the school that denied her admission, North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2020, she would be cemented in entertainment history as a Kennedy Center honoree.