When Debbie Allen isn’t in front of the camera performing — or behind it — she can be found buzzing around her 25,000 square foot fine arts “palace” in Mid-City.
From the outside, the building tries hard to hide in plain sight. In daylight, his second-story addition appears to have no windows. But inside, the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ director and actress is putting the finishing touches on the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s new home, inside the Rhimes Performing Arts Center.
The moniker honors Allen’s longtime friend and colleague, TV powerhouse and “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes, who donated the building.
The venue includes five dance studios, a 200-seat performance hall, and classrooms for the Debbie Allen Middle School of the Performing Arts. The facility also has a theater studio and art gallery, which Allen hopes to turn into a gathering space for artists and creatives.
“I know what got me to where I am…all this training, bel canto singing, acting: I’m trying to give it to these kids,” Allen said.
Allen said Rhimes was hesitant to have the facility named after him, but Allen insisted. In a statement, Rhimes said she was proud to have the Rhimes family name on a building “which I know will do so much for the arts and the community as a whole for years to come.”
“I am beyond proud to support the new home of Debbie Allen Dance Academy – the Rhimes Performing Arts Center,” the statement read. “At DADA, the program is a haven of discipline and acceptance where, regardless of size, ability or economic status, young girls and boys grow into hardworking, conscientious, determined and confident young women and men. DADA is more than just a place where children learn to dance, DADA is a movement.
The performance center had its grand opening in March, followed by an April 10 ceremony attended by “Grey’s Anatomy” co-stars Ellen Pompeo and Kevin McKidd, actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and musicians Billy Porter and Jennifer Hudson. He officially opened classes at the dance academy last weekend.
Dancers ages 4 and up can start enrolling in theater and dance classes including Ballet, Dunham, Flamenco, Hip Hop, Jazz, African, Latin Fusion, Modern and tap shoes. Students can also enroll in masterclasses taught by the likes of former ballerina Marguerite Derricks and former “Dance Moms” reality TV dance instructor Abby Lee Miller. Some of the dance classes, like the salsa class, are taught by Allen herself.
Long before appearing in, producing, and ultimately directing one of primetime television’s highest-rated shows, Allen was dancing. She won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Choreography for her breakthrough performance as dance teacher Lydia in the 1980s musical drama series “Fame.”
Allen said the center, which cost more than $10 million to complete, will have classrooms for up to 15 college of performing arts students (separate from the dance academy) from of September.
The performing arts center was designed by global architecture and design firm Gensler. Inside, its crisp white walls are decorated with paintings and photographs from Allen’s personal collection (many by his friend Rick Carter). The second floor features modern opaque glass exterior walls that glow when illuminated at night, revealing the silhouettes of rehearsing dancers.
The Rhimes Performing Arts Center is just three miles from the Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center) and takes up almost an entire city block. Allen said its location is crucial.
DADA had long outgrown its former home — a revamped Marie Callender restaurant in Culver City — but it was affordable, Allen said, and fulfilled its role as a community beacon in an underserved predominantly black and Latino neighborhood. The new dance hall will do exactly the same thing, but on a larger scale.
The 2020 Netflix documentary “Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” followed Allen as she attempted to choreograph 200 dancers in the restaurant-turned-dance studio. Obtaining funding for a larger room was difficult. The cost of a new installation was high, and Allen couldn’t find someone who would co-sign with her on a building.
“I was just calling on the gods to come help me make it what it is,” she said.
Until one morning when God came in the form of a phone call from Rhimes, asking to meet at the corner of West Washington Boulevard and South Manhattan Place. Rhimes stood in front of an old brick building that would soon become DADA’s new home.
“What we do will never get old. It will never get old,” Allen said. “I feel like what we have here – even though we’re 22 – is a fresh start.”