By Shirley Hawkins
Celebrities and other civic dignitaries turned out recently to attend the grand opening of the new home of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, which is now housed in the new state-of-the-art facility, the Rhimes Performing Arts Center.
For decades, Allen’s Los Angeles-based academy has served as a celebrated training ground for dancers at its studio in Baldwin Hills. Many have graduated to join touring companies of productions or dance on the Broadway stage.
The new facility, located near the intersection of Western Avenue and Washington Boulevard in the Mid-City area, is part of a two-story, 24,000-square-foot complex containing a 200-seat theater and five dance studios.
It also contains the Berry Gordy Control Room, the D.A. Fly Aerial Room named for Will and Jada Pinkett Smith; the Chandra Wilson Education Center; the Wallis Annenberg Performance Space honoring Wallis Annenberg; and the Kobe Bryant “Wall of Light” which features the names of major sponsors.
Attending the grand opening celebration were U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Karen Bass, actress Phylicia Rashad, Allen’s sister; honorary Oscar award winner Samuel L. Jackson and his wife LaTanya Richardson; Jada Pinkett Smith; Grammy and NAACP Award Winner Billy Porter; musician Herbie Hancock; actress Vanessa Bell Calloway; drummer Sheila E.; actress Raven Simone; actress Rebecca Gayheart; and Lena Waithe, creator of the “Chi” television series.
The facility, gifted to Debbie Allen by “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Bridgerton” producer Shonda Rhimes, offers dance classes in jazz, hip hop, ballet, African, Dunham, musical theater, and tap. Classes are open to students eight and older.
Tours of the new facility allowed visitors to view the expansive interior, including several new classrooms where young dancers demonstrated their fluid movements to music.
Guests were ushered into the theater for performances by Billy Porter, Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson, who sang “The Impossible Dream;” mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, Tiler Peck of the New York City Ballet, Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies, the Red Birds, dancers who ranged in age from 8 to 13, and the Debbie Allen Dance Academy Ensemble, which electrified the crowd by dancing to “Boogie Wonderland” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“I think this grand opening is amazing,” said actress Phylicia Rashad, who exuded pride over her sister’s accomplishment. “Debbie is always doing something significant, so this is fantastic. This is great. This is beyond the beyond. It brings so much to the people in this community and the young people because it will open so many more opportunities.”
California State Sen. Steven Bradford says he first watched a performance by the Debbie Allen Dance Theater 25 years ago.
“Some of my friends’ children took classes there,” he said. “I wish that I had had the opportunity to take dance lessons there as a kid, but I have two left feet. I could have used the lessons that Debbie Allen has been providing to the young folks in this community for over 30 years.
“Having this academy will really expand upon what she has been doing, and this new dance studio is an accomplishment that is both remarkable and encouraging,” he added.
Flamingo dancer, choreographer, singer, actor, and model Timo Nuñez, who said he had known Allen since he was 12 years old, added that Allen is a teacher who inspires and always encourages her young students.
“She gives the kids permission to dare to dream, that’s the big thing because many of us have these big dreams, but we feel like, ‘Maybe it’s too big, or we can’t reach it.’ She has always lifted all of us and said, ‘You can do whatever you want to do.’