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Debbie Allen Dance Academy prepares for The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker

Debbie Allen selects the dancers who will perform in The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. Photo by Jason Lewis

Performing Arts

The Baldwin Hills dance studio produces some of the best dancers in the area.

By Tracey Edwards

The Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s Baldwin Hills studio was buzzing last month with young dancers who were all seeking a spot in the “The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.”  The musical theater production, which Allen wrote, choreographed and directs, will be an amazing holiday experience that is being featured at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles on December 16 and 17.  The production stars actress, dancer, and choreographer Debbie Allen and actress Raven Symone.

At the audition, the boys and girls, who were as young as six years old, were all strong in ballet, jazz, flamenco (a dance form native to Spain), and hip hop.  The young dancers needed to perform these dance forms at a high level to earn a spot in the production, and all of those dance skills are taught at the academy.  Many of them also have a gymnastic background.

Allen was personally on hand to lead the auditions, and select the performers who were going to be a part of the production.  While the audition was intense, Allen had words of encouragement for every dancer who participated.

“I told them to feel good about themselves whether I kept them or not,” she said.  “And if I didn’t keep them it meant that they need to go and train.  So either come here and train, go to Lula Washington, or go somewhere and get classes.”

Working with children can have emotional challenges, as younger people can find it difficult to deal with the highs, and especially the lows, of competition.  Allen takes that into account as she judges and instructs the dancers.

“I’m not in a world of scrutinizing them the way a lot of premiere dance groups do,” she said.  “They don’t have to pass an X-ray about their feet and their ankles.  They don’t have to be the perfect body type.  If they have the spirit of the dance, that’s what I’m looking for.”

That spirit can be found in abundance in the neighborhoods surrounding the dance studio, and the competition becomes stiffer as many people from around the nation come to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy to improve their skills.

“They come from every part of the city,” Allen said.  “They come from Leimert Park, Crenshaw, Beverly Hills, Washington D.C.  They move across country.  I think what we’re doing here is we’ve planted a footprint that’s expanding.  The dust from the footprint is pollinating this community.”      

The academy has an emphasis on classical ballet and modern dance, and the students follow a schedule designed by Allen. Techniques studied also include African, Dunham, flamenco, hip hop, jazz and tap dance.  Aerial, voice and acting classes are also offered in rotation.  

“It’s about offering them this wonderful opportunity.” Allen said.  “I was so moved to tears the first time we did a recital with flamenco.  There were these beautiful black girls dancing flamenco.  It did my heart so good.  The language of the dance knows no divide.  There are no borders or walls.”

Allen sees the importance of children being involved in all types of extracurricular activities, such as dance, music, and sports.

“I’m happy if a child studies piano,” she said.  “I’m happy if a child has an opportunity to participate in sports.  These disciplines offer character education.  They are strenuous.  You have to practice.  You have (sports) coaches that kick your ass.  You have piano teachers that whack you on the hand.  You have ballet teachers that just say, ‘again, again, again!’  But at the end of the day, you get out there, somebody throws the ball and you catch it.  You leap in the air and you spin in ballet.  You play a concerto.  And we are weeping.  And that training translates to anything you do in life.”

The amazing training of the dancers from the academy will be on display at The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.  The musical theater production is written and directed by Allen, and will be held on December 16 and 17 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.thehotchocolatenutcracker.com.  For more information about the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, contact them at (310) 280-9145, or visit www.debbieallendanceacademy.com