After a harsh year, ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet is a sweet treat for everyone to enjoy. The classic story is captivating with fights between the nutcracker and the King rat, a journey to a magical land and impressive dancers in vibrant costumes.
Although, there has been many adaptations of this popular ballet production I was drawn to the new documentary “Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. I recognized the writer and director of this updated version of “The Nutcracker” and knew I was in for a treat. Debbie Allen, is a well-known actress with 3 Emmy Awards as well as many other awards. In addition to this, she also choreographed 10 Oscar Award shows.
Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is a modern version that blends multiculturalism as well as tap, jazz, hip hop and Latin American dance.Allen reveals her set-backs and how she overcame them to succeed. Here are my take-aways that can be put into action even if your career isn’t in the ‘arts.’
After high school, Allen auditioned at the North Carolina School of the Arts. She didn’t get accepted and was even told she wasn’t “right” for dance. In addition to this, she was told she should pursue another career.
This was a devastating blow to a young Debbie Allen and she stopped dancing for a year or so. During the summer of her freshmen year at Howard University she began dancing again. She was introduced to Martha Graham, Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey and discovered the new and exciting world of modern dance. Instead of trying to fit into the mold of traditional ballet she realized that modern dance was a better fit for her.
Many years later, a Russian ballet teacher told Allen’s daughter – Vivian that she couldn’t dance. Let’s just say Allen didn’t receive this news very well. Allen removed her daughter from this dance school and later on created the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in L.A. Her daughter – Vivian was her motivation for starting a new dance academy.
Allen’s dance academy was different by being open to anyone who wanted to dance regardless of race, gender or class. Allen grew up in Houston, TX. She never saw a live production of “The Nutcracker” as a child. Houston was still very segregated at the time and Allen wasn’t allowed inside theaters. Embracing inclusivity created opportunities that Allen didn’t have as a child and created opportunities for aspiring dancers in the L.A. and the surrounding area.
There were more scholarship students than tuition paying students at Allen’s dance academy. This is when the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker was created. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year that funds students’ scholarships at the dance academy. There are 8 shows that generated $450K in ticket sales. Some graduates of Allen’s dance academy went on to continue their education at various universities, performed with contemporary ballet companies as well as performing on a Broadway show.
Debbie Allen’s daughter – Vivian said it best “Success is one step beyond failure.” Both Debbie Allen and her daughter – Vivian experienced rejection in the ballet world. However, they continued to believe in themselves and their abilities. They also were persistent while working to improve and achieve their dreams. Allen is also generous with her time and knowledge to shape young dancers into talented, disciplined artists of the future.
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