Get on your feet for Debbie Allen!
The choreographer, director, producer and actress received the Governors Award at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards for her numerous contributions to television, her commitment to inspiring marginalized youth through the performing arts and mentorship, and her philanthropic endeavors.
Allen's honor was introduced with a video recapping her life and career voiced by Gayle King before Jada Pinkett Smith, Ellen Pompeo, Ava Duvernay and Michael Douglas brought her on stage. The foursome were holding canes in tribute to her Fame character and repeatedly tapped them on the floor as she made her entrance to a standing ovation.
"I am trembling with gratitude and grace, I'm trying not to cry and be equal to the situation because it's been many years in the making, taking a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time, a lot of courage and creativity and faith to believe that I could keep going. And I have," Allen, 71, said while accepting the honor on Sunday. "And I brought a whole lot of people with me, so I want to say thank you for this glorious moment in the sun."
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After waiting so long for this recognition, Allen made sure she had plenty of time to give her speech.
"Honey, turn that clock off. I'm paying no attention to it, turn it off. Turn it off," she said to the producers, upon seeing a countdown clock indicating how long she had to speak.
"Let this moment resonate with women across the world, across this country and across the world, from Texas to Afghanistan," she said near the end of her speech. "Let them know. And also with young people who have no vote and who can't even get a vaccine, they're inheriting the world that we live that we leave them. It is time for you to claim your power, claim your voice, say your song, tell your stories, it will make us a better place. Your turn. Thank you."
Allen got her start training with the Houston Ballet Academy, then continued to dance through high school. While in college at Howard University, she attended the American Dance Festival in New London, Connecticut, where she met Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp.
Allen made her Broadway debut in 1970 with a chorus part in Purlie. Her first major Broadway role came in 1980 when she starred as Anita in the West Side Story revival, a role which earned her a Tony nomination. That same year, Allen appeared in the Fame movie and reprised her role two years later in the TV adaptation.
The Texas native earned two Emmys as lead choreographer on the Fame TV show and a Golden Globe for best actress. In 1984, she began directing episodes of the series.
Kelsey McNeal via Getty Jesse Williams in Grey's Anatomy
She went on to direct and produce television series such as Grey's Anatomy — in which she also stars as Dr. Catherine Fox — Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Jane the Virgin, Empire, Insecure, A Different World, Everybody Hates Chris, Stompin' at the Savoy, Polly, That's So Raven, Cool Women, Quantum Leap, TV movie The Fantasia Barrino Story and Netflix film Christmas on the Square.
RELATED VIDEO: Debbie Allen Reflects on How 'Fame' Gave Her the "Key to the Kingdom" and Turned Her Love of Dance Into a Career
Off screen, Allen has choreographed for legendary performers like Mariah Carey, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, James Earl Jones, Dolly Parton and sister Phylicia Rashad. She choreographed the Academy Awards 10 times, holds four honorary doctorate degrees, became a Kennedy Center honoree in 2020 and was appointed by former President George W. Bush to represent the United States as a Cultural Ambassador of Dance.
In 2000, Allen opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles to bring dance and theater arts to marginalized students. Today, the nonprofit school provides services on-site to over 3,000 participants each year; grants extensive scholarships to students; and invests in classes specially designed for cancer patients, seniors, and women and children who have experienced domestic abuse. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Allen took her curriculum online with the Debbie Allen Dance Academy Virtual Dance World, a series of custom and on-demand classes available through Zoom for a small donation.
The 73rd Emmy Awards, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, are airing live from 8-11 p.m. ET on CBS.
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