In the audience of the New York City Dance Alliance “Bright Lights Shining Stars” benefit, honoree Debbie Allen, clapped, cried, laughed and jumped up to blow kisses to the string of family and friends surprising her on stage. Whether it was sister Phylicia Rashad, Raven Symone or Carmen Lavallade, their stories described a woman of unbridled talent, energy and love. Catherine Zeta-Jones, a former honoree, who was there with husband Michael Douglas, opened the evening, which took place on Sunday, September 27th. Their daughter, Carys was among the student performers.
“This is like a family reunion for me,” Allen said, looking around the room. “Joe McNeely, Carmen Lavallade! All my students! Oh, my daughter! Gee baby, I didn’t know you were coming!” Vivian Nixon had indeed surprised her mother with an electric rendition of her mother’s role in the “West Side Story” iconic “America.”
Dancer, director, actor, producer, mother, wife, and mentor to countless young dancers in her Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, Allen was the perfect fit for the night. Five years ago, Lanteri took the Dance Alliance he created to teach and showcase dance students up a notch, creating the NYCDA Foundation to provide scholarships for young dancers. Original Gala Honorary Chairs Robin Cofer and Cassandra Seidenfeld have steered the last five dance filled benefits at the Skirball Center.
“The best part of my life is that I have found a purpose greater than myself,” Allen told the room. “And that is to work tirelessly with all the young people to use all my friendships, resources, beg borrow and steal to give more opportunities to those who deserve to be on stage.
“The New York City Dance Foundation is doing work that is God’s work. Because to be creative is the force of God… I always say that I’m in Church every time I go to dance studio. We are truly God’s explorers going into the studio and coming out with light, love, pain, joy.” Allen also spoke about the benefits of dance. “The dance world is a world that commands time and space, that knows real freedom and passion with abandon,” she shared. “We give of ourselves. We are gypsies for a reason: We will dance for whatever hot meal and per diem.”
Allen has been a star ever since she played the charismatic teacher in “Fame.” Today, she produces, directs and appears in “Grey’s Anatomy” and directs “Empire.” “It’s the dance that informs everything I do,” she continued. “When I come onto the set, I have so much energy, I was doing double turns to get Patrick Dempsey to say his lines. The movement of the cameras is informed by my understanding of dance. Dance has informed every aspect of my success.
“Let’s keep it accessible to more and more people,” she noted. “It will change lives. It changed mine.”
For more information about New York City Dance Alliance, visit www.nycdance.com.