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How I Almost Met Debbie Allen

“Who is your role model?” This is the question that stopped my thoughts when my 8th grade dance teacher was in the process of creating our “Blackout” show programs. I toiled over this question in my head for what seemed like an hour before I wrote down, “Oprah Winfrey.” After all, she did seem like the perfect role model, if I had to choose from the limited encyclopedia of women in power that everyone undoubtedly adores and respects. When my mother saw the finished version of the dance show program, she expressed that she was hurt that I didn’t choose her and I felt conflicted.

I knew that a “role model” was someone I should aspire to be or someone whose characteristics I admired, so I could have chosen my mother. However, I was still thinking of someone I could become and someone whose steps I could follow to reach my ultimate goal of success…but what did I want? Who did I want to become in life? I didn’t find this answer until I left Austin, TX to experience college life in Houston.

Lam Nguyen (Left); Zondra Victor-Johnson (Right).

In Fall 2013, I was an office intern for Aurora Picture Show, a non-profit cinema not too far from the University of Houston. I got to work events during the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and earned the chance to attend any events my pass gave me access to! I saw a few movies, but also attended the highly anticipated Houston Ballet documentary showing that would be followed by a Q & A. The program displayed featured guests and I saw Debbie Allen on that list. I knew I had to at least be in her presence. I was still a part-time dancer at the time, taking classes whenever I could manipulate my college credit hours to align with my Media Production degree program.

I dragged my fellow classmate, Lam, along with me to sit in the crowd, which was a sea of unknown faces. For the record, I also knew no one on the panel…except for the star I came to see. As everyone was murmuring and preparing for the presentation to begin, I heard boots walking down the aisle. I thought, “That’s her!” It had to be since she was the only female on the panel today. I turned to my left, with all the casualness I could muster, and I felt like I was in slow motion. Ms. Allen had on high boots, a dark-colored peacoat, and perfect, long hair that flowed when she walked. After she passed me by, I had an unending smile on my face.

I waited impatiently until the end of the documentary for the Q&A. There was question after question for the other panelists and then…Ms. Allen’s turn. She had a few questions, but not as many as the other panelists. I thought, “Maybe it’s because she was a last-minute addition to the program. Or is it because no one else in this room understands exactly how much she has contributed to the dance and film industries?” There was silence when the time came for her to ask if there were any more questions. Now was my chance. If not now, then when?

The most unnerving thing happened during that silence…I couldn’t speak or think of the one question I had thought to ask. My mind was racing as my palms became clammy. Suddenly, my thoughts and lower-level panic attack were interrupted by the announcement that the Q&A was now over. Should I run down these stairs and introduce myself? My friend, Lam, tried to encourage me to go up and speak, but I was too shy.

My heart was torn and my mind was puzzled as we trailed out of the theater. This was the very first time I had been starstruck, but I knew it had been something more. I realized that Debbie Allen was my first role model.

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