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Entertainment & Arts

Debbie Allen’s free Instagram dance class was a hit. How she plans to keep you moving

Debbie Allen Instagram class
Debbie Allen decided to host the free class immediately after halting production on the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” where she is an actor, executive producer and director.
(Makeda Easter/ Los Angeles Times)

Within the first minute of Debbie Allen’s live Instagram dance class Wednesday, more than 14,000 people had already tuned in.

Standing alone in her Debbie Allen Dance Academy studio, the director and choreographer called out, “While all of us are dealing with this uncertainty … we will bring this light.”

Allen then began an energetic warmup with head rolls, hip circles and some virtual encouragement to the theme song of the 1982 TV series “Fame,” in which she starred. As more people from across the country and abroad logged in to take the class (or perhaps to watch from their couch), Allen taught simple choreography phrases to a playlist of pop hits by Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars.

It was Allen’s first Instagram live class, a way to unite dance lovers as the coronavirus outbreak continues to force people indoors to slow its spread.

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Allen decided to host the free class immediately after closing her studio and halting production on the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” on which she acts, executive produces and directs.

As Allen taught, the comments flooded in — heart-eye emojis, kudos from parents dancing with their children, and location shout-outs. At one point, nearly 34,000 Instagram users tuned in.

“This is a time where I feel the universe is speaking to our global community, and reminding us all that we’re on this planet Earth together,” Allen said in an interview. “I know one of the greatest places to come together is on the dance floor.”

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It’s a tough time for the dance community, Allen said.

Dancers don’t typically have health insurance, and “most of us don’t have anything except the art in the moment,” she said. “Right now, that moment is totally being compromised. ... I think I inspired a lot of people to do what I did.”

Allen was planning the inaugural Los Angeles International Dance Festival with entertainment mogul Nigel Lythgoe, a 16-day citywide event. But like other arts programming nationwide, the festival has been postponed indefinitely.

Governments and health officials around the world are trying to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
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“We can’t even make a plan until we see that people can again gather,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard for two years, but this is life. Things change and you’re not always in control. And so you have to adapt and adjust.”

Allen said she plans to host more Instagram live classes, including a youth class on Saturday and another all-ages class next week. As the country settles into its new reality of social distancing, she envisions hosting more classes over Instagram or Zoom with dance instructors from her studio.

Other dancers and choreographers are also turning to social media to host livestreamed classes. Just hours before Allen, commercial choreographer Ryan Heffington served up his quirky moves in a dance class for followers practicing social distancing.

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“This is something we’re exploring for my teachers and the dance community is looking at,” Allen said. “We just have to create a new model, because there’s thousands and thousands of people that need this. And I’m happy to give it.”


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