Debbie Allen Named Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Woman of the Year

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Nevada Ballet Theatre will honor dancer, choreographer, actress, producer, director and author Debbie Allen as Woman of the Year for the 31st Annual Black & White Ball. The recipient of numerous awards, including a Tony Award, Golden Globe and three Emmy Awards among others, Allen’s many contributions to the performing arts and entertainment industry will be celebrated on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Aria.

The Black & White Ball is the 43-year-old ballet company’s largest annual fundraiser. As one of the most anticipated charitable affairs and highly attended black-tie society events in Las Vegas, it hosts an array of local celebrities, dignitaries, VIP’s and arts supporters.

Allen is widely known for her role as dance teacher Lydia Grant in the 1982 musical drama TV series, Fame, where she also served as the series principal choreographer.  Her love of dance began at the age of three and shortly thereafter, she resolved to become a professional performer. After lessons with a former member of the famed Ballet Russes, Allen danced with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico and in 1964, after auditioning for the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she received a full scholarship and became the company’s first African-American dancer.

In 1980, Allen’s Broadway career catapulted when she starred as “Anita” in the revival of West Side Story, earning her a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award as well as a role in the movie version of Fame. Two years later, the successful television spin-off version of Fame debuted with Allen in the lead role, earning her three Emmy Awards for her choreography. In addition to movies, her TV work continued with shows such as the hit TV series, A Different World, a spin-off of the Cosby Show, which she directed, as well as her most recent acting stint, her reoccurring role on the ABC drama, Grey’s Anatomy.

“Debbie Allen is one of the most significant and versatile artists in the entertainment industry today,” said NBT Co-Founder and Co-Chair Nancy Houssels. “From her beginnings as a ballet dancer to her performances on Broadway, it is her unwavering talent and dedication to the art form of dance that has been her foray into choreographing, acting, directing and producing,” said Houssels. “In addition to celebrating the strides she has made as an entertainer, we greatly admire her work as a dance educator – serving students of limited means through the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.”

Allen’s choreographic talents were showcased on the Academy Awards from 1991-1994 and in 2007 she participated as a judge in the TV hit dance competition series, So You Think You Can Dance.  In 2001, she opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, a non-profit organization offering classes for students ages four to eighteen in various dance disciplines. In addition to her work serving the youth of Greater Los Angeles, she is active with the African Caribbean Leukemia Trust and is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, for which she was appointed by then President George Bush.

In 1985, NBT began honoring female trailblazers – philanthropic pioneer women including former casino owners and hoteliers, politicians, businesswomen, and entertainers who shaped the face of Las Vegas. In 2001, the company honored actress, singer and dancer Debbie Reynolds and since that time, an array of internationally-recognized Broadway performers, actresses and legendary entertainers have been honored:  Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Celine Dion, Ann-Margret, Rita Rudner, Paula Abdul, Twyla Tharp, Bette Midler, Marie Osmond, Priscilla Presley, Eva Longoria, Mitzi Gaynor and most recently, Florence Henderson. In addition to leaving an indelible mark on the world of arts and entertainment, most of these honorees have performed, lived or owned businesses in Las Vegas.

For over three decades, this star-studded gala has raised important funds for NBT, enabling the company to produce professional company dance productions at its performance home, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts; provide quality dance instruction within its affiliated school, the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre; and share the art form of dance with underserved populations of youth as part of its Education and Outreach program, Future Dance.

Nevada Ballet Theatre is currently in partnership with The Smith Center and the Clark County School District to present “Dancing in the Wings,” a unique education and outreach program based on Allen’s 2001 children’s book of the same name. Through this new initiative, more than 6,000 students have witnessed this engaging performance demonstration with additional presentations planned in the coming months.

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