By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Celebrities and other civic dignitaries turned out April 9 for the grand opening of the new home of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in the new state-of-the-art facility, the Rhimes Performing Arts Center.
For years, Allen’s academy has served as a celebrated training ground for dancers at its studio in the Baldwin Hills Plaza.
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 that also contains a 200-seat theater and five dance studios as well as the Berry Gordy Control Room, the D.A. Fly Aerial Room named for Will and Jada Pinklett 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.
Among the crowd 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, which was gifted to Debbie Allen by “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Bridgerton” producer Shonda Rhimes, will offer dance classes in jazz, hip hop, ballet, African, Dunham, musical theater and tap. Classes are open to students 8 and older.
Tours of the new facility allowed visitors to view the expansive interior including several new classrooms where young dancers demonstrated their fluid lines to music.
Later in the evening, 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 to the young people because it will open so many more opportunities for them.”
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 the opportunity to take dance lessons there as a kid but I had two left feet. I could have definitely 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.”
Also in attendance was City Councilman Herb Wesson.
“This is a special night for me because I was here when they broke ground,” he said. “I had a chance to see this new dance studio grow from the earth. This used to be a church and then there were a couple of shops on the corner, so I had the opportunity to watch this entire thing transformed and I cannot wait to get inside so that I can actually see the final product.”
Dancer, choreographer, singer, actor and model Timo Nuñez, who said he had known Allen since he was 12, added that Allen is a teacher who inspires and who always encourages young students.
“She gives the kids permission to dare to dream, that’s the big thing because a lot 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 up and said, ‘You can do whatever you want to do.’”
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.