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Debbie Allen is a choreographer, director, and dancer who has worked on such projects as Fame, West Side Story, and Sweet Charity.
A young Debbie Allen is at the low point of her life when she is visited by the spirit of her deceased grandmother.
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Allen's parents divorced in 1957, leaving mother Vivian as the main caregiver for Debbie and her siblings. Under Vivian's watchful eye, the Allen children were expected to complete writing assignments to encourage their creativity, and each of them had to perform household chores to establish independence. Debbie's mother also taught her children to try new things. In 1960, on a whim, Vivian took Debbie and her siblings to live with her in Mexico. "She didn't know anybody in Mexico," Debbie later recalled in the Washington Post. "She didn't speak Spanish. She was looking for another level of experience...I respect that so much."
But that wouldn't be the end of Allen's segregation struggles. At 16, during what she believed was a successful audition for the North Carolina School of the Arts, she was chosen to demonstrate technique for other prospective students. Later, however, her application was rejected because her body was "unsuited" for ballet - a criticism often used to discourage black dancers.
The rejection hit Allen hard, and for the duration of high school, she focused mainly on her studies. An honor roll student, Allen entered Howard University, and graduated cum laude from the institution in 1971, with a degree in drama. She headed straight for Broadway after college, and in 1972 she landed several chorus roles, eventually making appearances on television, in commercials and series. Alex Haley's epic TV mini-series, Roots: The Next Generation, which discussed race relations in America. But Allen hit it big in 1980, after she starred in a Broadway revival of West Side Story as Anita.
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