Debbie Allen's Career Advice

August 25, 2015

Debbie Allen in the studio. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum for Dance Teacher.

Next month, Debbie Allen will be honored by the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation as its 2015 Ambassador for the Arts. The former Fame star, Emmy winner and choreographer-director-teacher extraordinaire will receive her award at the NYCDA Foundation’s Bright Lights Shining Stars event on September 27, in New York City. During the star-studded evening of performances, over $50,000 in college scholarships will be awarded to dancers. Allen’s sister and actress Phylicia Rashad (of “The Cosby Show”) will also make a special appearance.

In celebration of Allen’s upcoming award—and all that she’s done for the field of dance—we’ve gathered some kernels of wisdom that she offered readers in a story in Dance Magazine‘s February 2006 issue. A sentence or two just might become your new motivational dance mantra. My personal favorite? “You need to know what it is to sweat.”

On the importance of a strong technical base: 
“There is no jazz dance without ballet! And also without African dance. If you can do ballet and African dance, you can do anything. You also have stamina and you have grace. You can be fluid and lyrical, and you can be sharp and cutting. Ballet is always going to be the most important of techniques for any dancer.”

On when to play it safe—and when to push yourself:
“I think the only time safety becomes an issue is when I have students flying around doing the Cirque du Soleil techniques. Then it’s really a hazard. But otherwise, no. You need to work hard. You need to know what it is to sweat. Stamina is your power. It’s like on the basketball court. The players run up and down and up and down and they are judged by how quickly they recover. They have maybe 10 seconds to shoot some free throws, then they’ve got to go again…So you keep working, but you need to know when it is time to rest. You can’t party all night.”

On versatility:
“Your versatility is your ability to work. I’ve never been without a job, knock on wood [she does], because I do so many different things. The more you do, the greater your vocabulary is, and the broader your dream can be.”