Tiffany Renee Johnson
Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Recently, I watched Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker on Netflix, and I was so moved. Debbie Allen is SUCH a force and has always been a huge inspiration. Watching the documentary was a reminder of all the reasons why. She’s always shown me that everything I imagine is possible. I see myself in her. Nothing I imagine is too much. Or too lofty. Her life is proof that it’s possible…if you do the work.
I took a journey through a bunch of thoughts after watching the documentary. There was one mental place I chose to linger for a bit. The land where I asked myself these questions: Are you currently working as diligently to achieve such things as Ms. Allen has? Have you ever worked diligently enough. My answer to myself was, “In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. There's much more to do.” I was dissatisfied with the answer. I understand that I can be a bit hard on myself sometimes. I also understand the fact that we’re very much still in a pandemic. But I can’t circumvent the knowledge that there is more required of me. More for me to do. More for me to create. I must. And it will only happen with strategic, intentional work. Consistent work. One day at time.
"Debbie Allen is the epitome of what happens when you really SHOW UP," I continued to think. I thought and thought. And continued to think throughout the day. And then I paused to hunt for an old picture from 2009. I found it and glanced at it for a bit. And I remembered. The pic is from the summer I attended Debbie Allen Dance Academy for a dance intensive. Ms. Allen had come to Howard earlier in the year to hold an audition (or was it a master class? probably both). I went with excitement. Because Debbie Allen. Duh. I gave it 110%. I wanted to impress her. I remember her paying me a compliment after and saying that she would see me that summer. WHUUUH?! I was elated and hoping it wasn’t just kind words. It wasn’t! I got an offer letter some time after to attend the dance intensive! And I was thrilled! But there was one problem. I couldn’t afford it. The cost of tuition and housing was expensive and I was a college sophomore. I had no idea how to make this work. But then somehow I ended up talking to Joe Selmon, my theatre department’s chair at the time. God rest his soul. He told me exactly who to talk to get the financial help I needed from my university. He told me not to take no for an answer. I talked to about three people and by the end of it all, I was allowed to attend the summer intensive and take it as a summer course for college credit AND the university paid for it. I learned so many valuable lessons during that process. The main one was that THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY!
I had a beautiful time that summer. I was older than a lot of the students but I was in such great company that it didn’t matter. And there were a some folks who were my age and a couple of lovelies form my school. I was challenged so much. I trained in a myriad of styles, a couple which were completely new for me. It was awesome. The culmination of it for me wasn’t just our final performance at the end of the program, but also the conversation I managed to have with Ms. Debbie Allen afterwards. I saw her and I was determined to tell her thank you. Not just for the wonderful intensive but for being all that she was. For being such a huge inspiration. I thanked her for showing me it was possible. She told me that you just have to work to master one thing at a time, one brick at a time. Now the question is, who will I show all that is possible? What work will I do so that people can see themselves in me and know, like I’ve always known watching Ms. Debbie Allen, that the possibilities are endless?