Deborrah Kaye Allen, better known as Debbie Allen, is an American choreographer and dancer from Houston, Texas. She was born on January 16, 1950 to Arthur Allen and Vivian Ayers. Her mother was a strong role model in her life, who took care of Debbie and her siblings when her parents got divorced. Vivian herself was a Pulitzer prize winning poet, and she wanted to provide the best opportunities for her children. She ensured that Debbie and her siblings not only excelled at their schoolwork, but also became independent young adults by making them perform chores around the house. She always wanted her children to experience new things, so she moved the family to Mexico for 2 years despite the fact that none of them spoke Spanish or knew anyone there.
Debbie was determined to be a dancer from a very young age, and her parents enrolled her in dance classes when she was five years old. She was an A grade student her whole life and excelled at high school. At the age of 12, she auditioned for the Houston Ballet School, where her performance was much appreciated – yet, she was denied admission on racial grounds. She was secretly admitted by a Russian instructor who was impressed with her skills, and later accepted as the only black student there because of her sheer talent. Racial discrimination hampered her career several times, including being rejected admission at the North Carolina School of Arts.
Disappointed by this state of affairs, Debbie enrolled at Howard University to study drama, from where she graduated with honors in 1971. After college, she took to Broadway, landing several chorus roles as well as small parts in TV commercials and dramas. One of these included a small role in the famous television show “Roots: The Next Generation” which tells of racial abuse faced by slaves. Her breakthrough role was in a Broadway production of West Side Story, in which she landed the leading role. For this performance, she received a Tony Award nomination.
Next, she landed the role of a dance instructor in the 1980 movie “Fame”. The film was hugely successful and was later adapted for television. Allen was offered one of the leading roles in the television series and she won three Emmy Awards for choreography. Her other roles in film include the movies “Blank Check”, “Ragtime”, “Next Day Air”, “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh”, “Jo Jo Dancer” and “Your Life is Calling”.
She starred in the musical “Sweet Charity” for which she won her first Tony Award. Her directorial debut was for the series “A Different World” – a series based on “The Cosby Show” in which her sister Phylicia Rashad had starred. Debbie increased the show’s ratings exponentially and continued to direct it until the last season aired in 1993. Other than choreographing and directing, Debbie has been a regular columnist for “Movement” magazine since 2006 and has published a book titled “Dancing in the Wings”.
Debbie Allen runs a non-profit dance academy in Los Angeles, which she started in 2001. The academy offers training and education to dance students between the ages of 4 and 18, especially reduced fee or free of cost, to children from underprivileged families. For her services to the arts, she has won several awards and honors, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Awards and Image Awards. She is married to a former NBA player, Norm Nixon, with whom she has two children.