Talent and Generosity Abound at NYCDAF Gala

September 28, 2015

Sunday night, NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts lit up with talent, from the most promising stars of tomorrow to our favorite dance icons. The New York City Dance Alliance Foundation’s “Bright Lights, Shining Stars” gala, held this year in honor of the bold and inspiring Debbie Allen, paid tribute to her dedication to the performing arts with a packed evening of dance.

NYCDAF awards hundreds of promising dance students with scholarships to help make their college dreams more accessible. Many of these students performed throughout the night, including in a rousing Fame-inspired production number where several of Allen’s students made surprise guest appearances.

NYCDA Executive Director Joe Lanteri with scholarship winners. Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy NYCDAF.

These special touches, like when Allen’s daughter made a surprise appearance as Anita in “America” from West Side Story (a role that Allen played on Broadway), made the event feel personal and intimate. “America” was one of my favorite performances of the night. Even before knowing that Vivian Nixon was Allen’s daughter I was captured by her spirit and spunk. It’s no wonder that she impressed—she was a 2007 Dance Magazine “25 to Watch,” and starred in the Broadway musical Hot Feet in 2006. Her return to the stage to honor her mother’s legacy was touching; Allen squealed with joy.

Vivian Nixon as Anita in “America” from West Side Story. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDAF.

Talent runs deep in Allen’s family; her sister, award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad spoke, and shared stories about Allen as a teenager. One of my favorites was about how in middle school Allen, who was very petite, chose to play the stand-up bass instead of a smaller string instrument. She had to stand on a stool and could barely wrap her hand around the neck, but she still didn’t miss a note.

Phylicia Rashad honors her sister, Debbie Allen. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDAF.

Allen is a deserving and appropriate honoree for NYCDA—like the organization, she has dedicated much of her life’s work to helping kids achieve their dreams in the performing arts. She spoke about how she’s found “a purpose outside of herself” by sharing her love of the arts with young people, and how she “begs, steals and borrows” to bring the arts to more people. Allen’s character on Fame always said: “Fame costs. And this is where you start paying for it.” Thanks, Debbie, for making that cost a little bit lower for so many kids!

Debbie Allen accepting her Ambassador for the Arts award. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy NYCDAF.