Debbie Allen teaches Philly dance students

May 12, 2017 GMT

Dancer, choreographer, actress, producer and director Debbie Allen visited Philadelphia Tuesday and Wednesday, teaching and dancing with students at String Theory Charter School and Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts as part of the Mann Center’s 2017 Artist-N-Residency program.

The 67-year-old Houston native seemed more in shape than the students.

“She’s the youngest one on the dance floor,” said Catherine M. Cahill, the president and CEO of the Mann Center For Performing Arts, during Allen’s visit to CAPA. “She is a lovely human being, too. She really cares about young people.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Allen watched two pieces performed by students at CAPA, at 901 S. Broad St., led by teacher LaDeva Davis.

“It was like having the Pope do your Mass for you at church,” said Davis, who has taught in the school system for over 50 years. ”[Allen] is a national treasure. It was inspiring for my students.”

Allen taught 90 minutes sessions during the classes at CAPA and String Theory, at 1600 Vine St. Students received hands-on experience from Allen, who is also an executive producer of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Davis said Allen taught 40 students in each session, one with her sophomores and another with juniors and seniors. Allen’s daughter, Vivian Nixon, also an actress and dancer who performed as Kalimba in Broadway’s “Hot Feet,” assisted with the lessons.

“It was just wonderful and exhilarating for everyone involved,” said Davis. ”[Allen] loved the kids and the kids loved her. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the kids.”

In the past the Artist-N-Residency program has included Al Jarreau, Billy Taylor, Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Orchestra and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

“Working directly in person, with a true master of the craft like Debbie Allen, is creating an unforgettable experience for these students as they continue to develop their skills and creativity as dancers and pursue their own careers in the performing arts,” said Rhoda Blount, Mann’s vice president of education and community engagement, in a statement. “Bringing this kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to students in Philadelphia is at the heart of our education mission at the Mann. It’s a thrill to watch these talented performers blossom under Debbie’s direction.”