Debbie Allen is quite frankly a force to be reckoned with. She was larger than life for me as a child watching Fame, but meeting her and working with her has surpassed that iconic image I held in my mind as a young girl. Her reverence and respect for the arts is so powerful that every project she touches invites the dancer, actor, performer involved to bring the best of themselves to the room. I recently read a quote from actress Sandra Oh who said, “One of the reasons I am an actor is directly because of Debbie Allen.”
Debbie makes things happen, she is a believer in possibilities, and even though she directs huge television shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, she always comes back to the dance. She is a dancer, through and through.
I’ve had the privilege and honor to have danced for Debbie on many projects like the Academy Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors with Stevie Wonder, and many live shows with incredible artists like Lena Horne, Tito Puente, Thelonious Monk Jr, among others. My time with her will always be a special and beautiful highlight of my career. She is an inspiring woman to me, creating no matter what, showing up in the biggest way as she guides our youth through the arts, balancing a family with a powerful business life. She does it all! And, has a wicked sense of humor and can make a fabulous margarita to boot!! :)
I’ve been curious how other artists handle the ups and downs of the entertainment business. This is why I started this series of interviews. The guidance, feedback, insight from those who have done it successfully may help a young performer on their path, or anyone along the path of life really. Debbie Allen has done it with such grace. I am thankful that she agreed to my interview. May we all take a little something from her words, including the funny ones.
TNH: How does being a dancer and choreographer inform you as a director?
DA: It’s all about movement and designing where the camera goes. Starting as a director for dance first, it’s always been the camera that moves and dances.
TNH: What fuels you to stay creative and make things happen?
DA: The young people that I work with that look at me with big bright eyes every day, hopeful about their future and what is possible.
TNH: Who have been the biggest creative influences in your life?
DA: My mother, my sister, Katherine Dunham.
TNH: Do you read reviews of your work and if so, how do you separate the courage to create from the fear of how it’s received?
DA: I’m not afraid of reviews. It’s always one person's opinion and the paper is used to clean up dog shit the next day.
TNH: How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, a mom, a professional?
DA: You do one thing at a time. You wake up and you make breakfast. You go to work, where you’re in charge all day. You come home and you walk your dog and watch TV with your husband and you catch up with your children. My personal life is very sobering for me.
TNH: What do you believe are some of the reasons to you having longevity and success in this business?
DA: I’m still a kid when it comes to inquiry and discovery.
TNH: What advice would you give to a young performer with big dreams?
DA: Dreams are great, dreams are the lens through which you project yourself into the universe. And then you have to be willing to do the work, the work to make your dreams come true.
TNH: Thank you, Ms. Debbie Allen, for your wisdom and insight. I'll be posting more interviews monthly so please subscribe to the Newsletter below for more!!